26 Aug 2021

Family & Matrimonial

Uncategorized

Dealing with Pets in a Divorce

Here in the United Kingdom, it is no secret that we are a nation of animal lovers: there is an estimated 51 million pets residing in homes across the UK. For many couples, pets are an integral part of family life. However, what happens to your furry friend when your relationship with your significant other breaks down.

Leah Thomas, senior associate solicitor in our Family and Matrimonial Team, talks about the options you can consider to make sure your pets are looked after during a divorce.

Under the law in England and Wales, a pet is classed as an item of personal property.  This means that it will generally be regarded by the court the same as a car or fridge freezer.   During the divorce process, when disagreements arise on who gets to keep the pet, it can simply come down to who can take care and maintain the pet.   If one party cannot financially pay for the care and upkeep of the pet, then logically it should be placed with the opposite party. This will always seem unfair for one party if they have spent more time looking after the pet or is better placed to care for the pet going forward. But there is very little, if any, room for manoeuvre in unless the pet was subsequently given as a gift.

However, the family court will rarely intervene in what happens to the pet and they do not generally make orders in relation to this in divorce proceedings, in the event there is no agreement between the parties.

Whereas most items can be easy to divide, pets can be an emotive topic and lead to drawn out negotiations. In some cases, where the pet has a high financial bearing on a single party’s income, a financial provision will be needed. In rarer cases, a value will need to be ascribed where the parties own a valuable pet such as a thoroughbred race-horse. This may be further taken into account when considering a division of assets between the parties.

Shared care

Sharing responsibility and care of the pet after the parties divorce is rarely seen as practical or sensible. Whereas with children, co-parenting is a common and (most of the time) easy arrangement to agree on, the same can’t be said about pets. No court are likely to engage in disputes over contact with a pet; the extent of the courts’ powers lie in addressing issues over property entitlement. A party may have some sway if they take responsibility for the day to day care of the pet however legal ownership will prevail in the vast majority of cases.  If you have evidence that you are the true owner of the pet, as opposed to your ex- partner, you can make an application to have the property returned to you in the small claims court.  This is the only way you can ensure a pet is returned to your care and it is often difficult to prove that the pet was not shared property prior to any separation.

Mediation

Whilst you may be unable to resolve the matter in court, you do have the option to resolve the matter by Mediation. A mediator can help you and your ex-partner agree on pet arrangements, without taking sides. One can be hired privately or you might be able to get legal aid for mediation if you are on a low income. They can assist in arranging the details of how to look after your pet including where they live and if there is any financial support from the other party not looking after the pet day to day.  At the end, you will get a document showing what you agreed. This document is not legally binding but can be made so through a solicitor drafting a consent order for a court to approve.

Dealing with divorce can be difficult but it can become more emotional when a beloved pet is involved. As well as being experts in the legal aspects of divorce, we will also deal with your case with sensitivity and concern to help you through these difficult times. Everyone needs sympathy and consideration when a civil partnership or marriage ends, and our team will be able to help and guide you with whatever issues arise from your separation.

Please get in touch today if you have any questions or concerns about getting a divorce. You can call our team on 01633 244233 or email us here.

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