Who gets the dog in a divorce?
It is no secret that we are a nation of animal lovers. In the UK alone, it is estimated that the number of dogs kept as pets have risen to 12.5 million. We often advise on disputes surrounding dog or pet ownership for couples, and who gets the dog in a divorce.
An all too familiar scenario is: My ex moved has out and has taken our dog. I bought the dog before our relationship began and all the paperwork is in my name. Will we have to go to court to arrange shared access to the dog?
What does the law say?
Besides the usual stress that goes with a break-up, figuring out who gets the dog in a divorce adds further emotional anguish for loving pet owners. And whilst they see their fur-baby as a member of the family, the courts will not see it the same way.
In the UK, pets are classed as chattels and are treated the same as any other material asset. So, in the eyes of the law, your pet is like any other form of property and is no different from a piece of artwork, furniture, or movable property. UK courts do not see them as separate entities, so they are not treated or given the same consideration as children, for example, from a legal standpoint.
What you should try to do is discuss sharing your pet either on a short-term or long-term basis, and ideally come to some mutual arrangement that you are both happy with. If you cannot discuss or agree on who gets the dog in a divorce, or if you cannot agree on shared arrangements, then the court should be your last option and the last resort.
Either party can apply to the court to decide who gets the pet. Beware, going down the court route is not plain sailing.
What will the courts consider?
If you cannot reach an agreement over your dispute about who gets the dog in a divorce, the court will expect to see an evidential paper trail, examples of which may include:
· Who bought your pet (including whose name is on the contract made with the rescue centre or breeder),
· Whether your pet was purchased before the relationship,
· Who is registered with the vets and who appears on the microchip database,
· Who is registered on the insurance certificate,
· Who usually takes care of your pet,
· Who pays towards your pet’s day-to-day living expenses?
If you have got purchase receipts that show ownership, that may be a persuasive factor in deciding who gets the dog in a divorce. The courts will also look at who the key provider is (or was) to your pet, including who usually pays for the vet bills and the insurance. And most importantly, the court will look at whose name is on the insurance and who is the named contact on the microchip register as well.
If you are the key person that takes responsibility for your pet, based on the list above, you may have a more compelling case, particularly if it is you who is registered with the vet.
However, you are much more likely to have a better outcome if you and your ex try to reach a resolution between you.
“Rather than rely on the court to make the decision, we encourage parties to take a pragmatic stance and reach an agreement themselves or with the assistance of a mediator or solicitor.” Nadine Moaddel, Director and Head of Family Law.
If you still cannot reach an agreement, you should consider using a mediator to resolve who gets the dog in a divorce. Court should be seen as a last resort because they are already overwhelmed with cases, and it can be a costly and stressful experience.
Shared care arrangements can also be agreed upon or even ordered by the court if deemed appropriate. Whether this is a practical solution, will depend on your circumstances.
How can we help you?
If you would like to find out more, if you would like our help to mediate your situation, or if you think that court is the only option, then please contact us for advice on 01403 337337.
This blog intends to provide information of general interest about current legal issues and does not constitute legal advice.