In 2018, according to PetPlan, it was estimated that there were around 51 million pets in households across the UK with this number expected to have soared during the Coronavirus pandemic due to a greater emphasis on working from home.
As a result, pets are an important part of many households and are often thought of as part of the family. It is not surprising that many separating or divorcing couples find it difficult to agree on who gets to keep the family pet.
Pets and the law
Whilst animals may be protected by various pieces of legislation from a welfare perspective, the law surrounding pets when divorcing in England and Wales is relatively straight forward.
It might be surprising to hear that pets are deemed to be chattels and so will follow the same rules that apply to ordinary household goods. This means that you will want to agree between yourselves who keeps the pet to avoid a judge making that decision for you. When it comes to pets, it’s all about ownership and ultimately, who paid for it.
It is much better if you can agree the custody of the pet rather than leave this to a judge. One judge, who ruled that each party should get one of the dogs each, stated: ‘If the parties wish to argue over their access to the other dog, I would suggest that they place the dispute before a mediator or arbitrator, perhaps one with experience of dogs’. X v IY  EWHC 3053 (Fam).
As a result, it is important to attempt to resolve the custody of your pets amicably.
Can I include the family pet in a pre-nuptial agreement?
Due to recent case law, pre-nuptial agreements are now recognised in England and Wales so long as they are entered into freely, with full and frank disclosure, and with no undue influence, amongst other matters being considered and accounted for.
This has seen a rise in couples entering into ‘pre-nups’ to protect their assets which they acquired prior to the marriage.
If you wish to avoid disputes in the future regarding your pets, a pre-nuptial agreement is a good place to record your intentions with regards to who will keep it in the event of separation.
A need for reform?
Given we are a nation of pet lovers, you may think that the law should give special status to pets in divorce proceedings to ensure that they are cared for.
Interestingly, law makers in Spain have recently reformed their laws to view animals as ‘sentient and living beings’ which has resulted in their welfare being considered in divorce proceedings. Whilst this may be the case in Spain, animals are not afforded the same status here in England and Wales.
Secure your pet’s future at home
If you are considering a pre-nuptial agreement or you have made the decision to initiate divorce proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact us to speak with one of our specialist family lawyers regarding your options concerning the matrimonial finances and any pets.
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