Who gets custody of the pet following separation?

We are a nation of pet lovers and so, it is only natural for us to be concerned about custody of our fur-babies following separation.

The Law in England & Wales treats pets as personal assets (legally known as “chattels”). Personal assets are usually things like cars, watches, sofa, handbags and so on. To treat our beloved pets in the same way seems surprising but at least there is legal recourse available if your ex-partner is being difficult.

What does the Law say?

If you are married or in a civil partnership, following separation, the Judge has the discretion to make an Order in respect of your furry members of the family. 

“Ownership” can be transferred in the same way as a car or a property. The Court can also make provision for “maintenance” to ensure you are able to meet vet bills, insurance, food, kennels etc. 

If it is a question of who will keep the family pet, the Court can consider who will be most devoted to caring for the pet. In some cases, the pet goes between two homes with the children of the family. 

You will recall from the news a few years ago that Ant McPartlin (one of the famous “Ant and Dec” duo) shares custody for his Labrador “Hurley” with his ex-wife.

What happens if you are not married - what happens to the pet?

If you are not married and are in a cohabiting relationship or simply own a pet with a friend (which seems to be on the rise), the Law is stricter and the discretion is limited. 

The Court will look into who made the initial purchase and how the costs of upkeep have been met. If you are both equal contributors, the Court can permit shared care of the pet so you “co-parent” with your ex or the second owner. 

Having a written agreement in respect of your pet can be extremely important and save you thousands in the long run. 

What can I do to protect my pet prior to separation?

You can enter into a “Pet-Nup” which is a prenuptial agreement relating to your pet and its care following separation. If you do not intend to marry, a cohabitation agreement can assist you in the same way. If you are already married or in a civil partnership, a postnuptial agreement can also be entered. Such agreements always sound pessimistic, but it is the easiest way to avoid any contention post separation and save costs in the long run.

What can I do post separation to formalise the care arrangements?

If there are no agreed arrangements or written agreements (as discussed above), the first step will be to narrow down who will care for your pet and what the arrangements will be. 

If you are amicable and able to have this conversation at the dinner table, you should do so. However, if relations are somewhat unsteady, we can assist you with negotiations (i.e. letters through solicitors). Alternatives such as meditation can also be considered. 

Once an agreement has been reached, we can have an Order, or a Deed put in place (depending on your legal status).

If an agreement cannot be reached, an application can be made at Court. 

At Birkett Long it is always our aim to try and avoid a long drawn-out legal battle and so, we will be happy to discuss your concerns with you under a free 15 minute initial call. If you would like some advice, please do not hesitate to contact us. I can be contacted via farrah.harvey-nawaz@birkettlong.co.uk or call 01245 453818.   

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.