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Pets and Divorce or Separation: Advice from Lawson-West Solicitors

Currently there is no power to make the equivalent of a contact or residence order in England and Wales for a pet. Pets are generally treated as property and if there is a dispute over who should keep the pet, the court will consider ownership or look at giving joint ownership.  However, this might not be best for the pet’s welfare.
Pets and Divorce
If a couple is divorcing, pets are treated as part of the Finance Order proceedings, where the assets of the marriage are divided, and pets are effectively just another item on the list of property.  The court has to consider all the circumstances and won’t necessarily consider who “owns” the pet.  The court is also unlikely to be persuaded it is worthwhile scrutinising who paid which vet bills or who spent more time caring for pets. 
There is no requirement for the court to consider the pet’s welfare either.  Some pets don’t like being moved and will be best left in the matrimonial home if one partner is buying the other out.  A joint ownership arrangement whereby you share time with the pets won’t suit every animal.  Likewise, if their owner works long hours outside the home, pets who prefer a lot of human company won’t settle into a different lifestyle.  The arguments and tension in a household going through the divorce process can be very stressful for pets too.  As a result pets may become aggressive or withdrawn and problematic behaviour will cause additional stress.  For the welfare of the pet, it may be better to consider getting a new pet as the focus for a new start.
Pets and Civil Partnerships or Unmarried Separation
If couples are not married or are in a civil partnership, then any dispute over a pet will be settled via the small claims court with one partner claiming recovery of the pet.  The court will consider the question of ownership.  If ownership can be established, then the owner will obtain an order for recovery of the pet.  If ownership cannot be established or ownership is joint, the court may make an order which gives you both equal time with your jointly-owned pet.
Pets and Living Together Agreements or Pre-Nuptial Agreements
Recording who owns the pets or what will happen to the pets if you separate can be recorded in a Living Together Agreement or Pre-Nuptial Agreement.  As the courts do not have the power to award contact or residence orders for pets, incorporating pets into a Living Together or Pre-Nuptial Agreement can save arguments and unnecessary legal bills later.  Although Pre-Nuptial Agreements are not currently enforceable, courts do take them into consideration, particularly if both parties have had independent legal advice before signing.

We are always willing to discuss each individual situation. Please phone Alistair Dobson on 01858 445480, James Haworth on 0116 212 1000 or Sarah Townsend on 0116 212 1080 to arrange a free initial appointment or visit one of our free walk-in clinics.  

Please note this will be kept in strictest confidence and is required solely to ensure we do not have a conflict of interest according to SRA regulations. The party WILL NOT be contacted by Lawson-West.