Dogs become a beloved member of the family and an essential part of their owner’s lives, and yet many couples do not have an agreement in place for who keeps the dog if they were to divorce. While the custody of a pet may seem trivial to some, recent data from Direct Line Group has estimated 28,500 divorces cases a year involve the custody of a pet; equating to a shocking 90 per day. Furthermore, one in five Brits said that deciding what to do with the dog would be more stressful than agreeing on child custody matters.
Pet custody battles between couples are on the rise, with presenter Ant McPartlin and his former spouse Lisa Armstrong being the latest celebrity couple whose divorce settlement included shared custody of their Labrador. Research from the Dogs Trust shows how valuable the family pet is, with more than a quarter of dog owners in a relationship saying their pet would be the most important thing for them to get custody of. With an estimated 9.9 million dog owners in the UK last year, this article will focus on how to protect your beloved pet during your divorce, what a ‘pet-nup’ is and your legal rights to the dog,
According to the Dogs Trust, 30 per cent of dog owners in relationships said they would consider signing a legal document to clarify what would happen to the dog if the couple were to split. These agreements are commonly referred to as ‘pet-nups’, and can prevent drawn-out legal battles over pet custody. While the pet-nup is not legally binding, it can help a judge decide custody. This is the easiest way to avoid any difficulties or contention when getting divorced from your partner and can help you both leave the relationship amicably and without enduring court procedures.
Divorce legislation in England and Wales can seem cold when determining what should happen to pets, because dogs are legally treated as ‘chattels’. This means that dogs have the same legal status as items of personal property and are therefore to be treated in the same manner as jewellery, artwork or the sofa. You should be aware that courts will not deal with pets in the same way as a child, no matter how much you may consider them to be a cherished member of the family. Pet custody can come down to the simple question of who paid for the dog, with some cases using vet bills as evidence or breeders to testify as witnesses – all to determine who the dog belongs to in the eyes of the law.
However, there are other factors which can come into play. If both partners paid for the dog, the majority of judges will take the view that the pet should remain in the family home. The court will not make arrangements for visitation or financial support in the way they would with a child, and these matters will be part of an agreed settlement between the divorcing parties. However, when calculating the needs of the party who keeps the pet, the court may make financial provision for the upkeep of the dog, such as kennel space and vet bills.
Sadly, many dogs are rehomed because couples either cannot agree who should keep the dog, or the dog is left with the partner who never wanted a dog in the first place. Terry Laffin from The Dog’s Trust said that there had been a 290 per cent increase in dogs being abandoned because their human companions could not come to a suitable arrangement. If you are considering getting divorced and are concerned what will happen to your co-owned pet, get in touch with a specialist divorce lawyer who can prepare a pre-nuptial agreement which includes arrangements for the care of the pet. I will work hard for you to negotiate a divorce settlement that works for you. Get in touch with me today.
I have many years of experience in assisting clients from a range of backgrounds to obtain a successful divorce. I make the process as stress- free as possible. I offer a variety of family law services, including divorce, fixed fee divorce, financial settlements, child law and related family law matters. When you trust me with your family life, you can be confident I will treat your circumstances in strict confidence and always keep you informed of how your case is progressing. To discuss your circumstances with me, call today on 0161 509 6241.