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10 January 2014

Many dogs caught up in their owners’ divorces

As reported in the media recently, it is not just children who can become the subject of disagreements over where they will live in the event of a divorce.  Increasingly dogs are becoming the subject of the same dispute.

Emma Alfieri, family practitioner, who specialises in divorce and related financial matters at Steeles Law, comments that this is an increasing problem:

“Family lawyers are used to dealing with disputes in respect of children and where they will live.  Disputes about where the dog should live used to be quite rare but sadly, as reported today, arguments about this are on the increase.  Unfortunately, there are some families that cannot afford to keep a dog upon divorce and have to give up their dog due to costs.  However, what we tend to be seeing more of is where both parties wish to retain the dog and they cannot agree.”

In the UK, our Court system takes a literal approach to this problem, which is that an animal is considered to be an asset, the same as any other matrimonial possession.  However, unlike dealing with the family car, TV or sofa, matters obviously become more difficult because of the emotional ties.

There are a number of cases involving animals that have been in the court arena, however, thankfully most cases settle long before it reaches the stage where the court has to make a decision.

Where dog ownership is in question, we would urge clients to try and agree matters directly with the other party, which usually results in one of the following:

  1. Agree who the dog will stay with.  Obviously this is hard for the person who is giving up the dog.  Thought should be given as to who will be able to provide the best home.
  2. Agree shared care of the dog.  For example, one party might look after the dog one week and the other party for the following week.
  3. Occasionally some owners might agree that one party can retain the dog, and the other party might visit periodically.  The issue with this of course is that the parties would have to regularly see one another, which could be problematic in some cases and this arrangement may not last in the longer term.

The issue is not just in relation to dogs; it could be in relation to horses, cats or in fact any other animal owned by the couple.

Couples that are worried should consider making a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement providing for, amongst other things, what will happen to the pet in the event of separation/divorce.

For further advice, please contact one of our family law practitioners on 01603 598000, or email family@steeleslaw.co.uk.