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For many people, their pets are a part of their family.  So, when a married couple with a pet divorce, deciding who should keep the pet can often be problematic and for some, almost as distressing as working out arrangements for seeing their children.

In contrast to children and ‘custody’ arrangements, in the eyes of the law, your pet is classed as property and as a content of your family home.  This means that it would currently be considered as part of a financial settlement if your marriage comes to an end.

What would happen at Court?

Exactly how the Courts in England and Wales would deal with who kept a pet if an agreement could not be made outside of Court, has not yet been tested enough to set a precedent.

However, considerations that the Court are likely to take into account include:

  • Your pet’s value and whether they provide an income
  • The cost of maintaining the pet, as this would form part of your or your spouse’s income needs
  • Who paid for the pet
  • Who tends to the day to day care
  • Who is registered at the vets
  • Who pays the bills associated with the animal, i.e. insurance, vets, etc.
  • The welfare of the pet

Scenarios: what could and has happened at Court?

Scenario 1: A Court could make an Order for one party to keep the pet.

In a case from 2008, the Court was asked to consider three horses when deciding a financial settlement. The wife wished to keep the 3 horses and was awarded a lump sum of £900,000.  This allowed her to purchase a property with sufficient grazing for the horses and incorporated £50,000 into her overall maintenance award of £80,000 per year, which was earmarked as maintenance for the horses.  This was appealed by the husband who argued that ‘The horses were an unjustified extravagance.’ However the Court dismissed the husband’s view and said that ‘The wife’s love of horses had been a feature of their marriage.’

In a more recent case from 2012, the husband sought to keep the dog and the wife asked the Court to order that she be given ownership.  The Judge decided the husband would be awarded ownership of the dog as he was mainly responsible for looking after it.

Scenario 2:  A Court could make an Order for the pet to be sold.

Thankfully, there is nothing to say that this has or will happen.  However, the Courts would have the power to make this decision if they deemed it a necessary option.

Differences in English and US law regarding who keeps a pet

The English Courts have not been asked to deal with the family pet in many cases.  However, there have been some high profile celebrity break-ups where couples argued over dogs; including George and Alex Best, who had 2 dogs, and Will and Julie Carling,  who reached an out of Court settlement over their black Labrador.

The US Courts appear to regularly make Orders regarding the family pet, some of which have been for famous couples such as Jake Gyllenhall and Kirsten Dunst, and Drew Barrymore and Tom Green.  The US Courts have taken the approach to consider what is in the animal’s best interests, which is how the English Courts consider children cases.

Advice about your situation

It could be said that the English Courts are somewhat behind the US Courts when considering who keeps a family pet, but they are being asked to decide this issue more and more often.

If you are going through a divorce or even considering one, and would like to ask us any questions relating to your pets; your children; financial settlements or anything else, you can contact one of our family law solicitors using the telephone numbers below.