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What happens to the family pet in a Divorce?

What happens to the family pet in a Divorce?

Family Solicitor Emma Piff provides insight into the growing trend surrounding pets in Divorce.

For many, the cat or the dog sits at the heart of the family unit, they are loved by all and have a unique bond with each member of the family.  When a relationship breaks down, deciding on the fate of the pet can prove to be one of the hardest decisions and can cause no-end of disruption.

Who is entitled to what in a divorce?

Following a relationship breakdown, separation or divorce there comes a point where both parties have to agree on how best to divide their shared possessions. The more amicably this can be done the better, but this process is not always straight forward and legal input may be required. Material possessions can be sold, financial ties liquidated and household items fairly distributed. When people talk about divorce, the questions often posed include; who will keep the house? where will the children live? what happens to the joint account? And increasingly commonly, what will happen to the pet?

Are there any laws to protect pets involved in a divorce?

Despite the level of respect, a pet may hold within a family, English law does not treat them with quite the same regard. Contrary to popular belief, in the eyes of the law, arrangements for pets are not dealt with in the same manner as children. In legal terms pets are classified as chattels. Chattel is the legal term for a belonging and means they will be dealt with in the same way as an item of furniture or piece of artwork would be.

A common-sense approach should always be adopted when deciding how to move forward with the pet. Who purchased the pet? Who pays the vet bills and covers the pet insurance costs? If someone is more heavily invested already, it might make sense for them to continue with these commitments. What living arrangements have been agreed? Is there a solution that means the pet can remain in the home that it is familiar with? The solution that causes the least upheaval and distress for the pet is the preferred option but sadly this is not always possible. Recent high-profile cases have reported instances of shared pet custody where one individual cares for the pet half of the week and the other, the remaining time. There is no law stating this can or cannot happen, if it works logistically and is a suitable solution that works for both parties it could be the ideal work-around.

Have pets always played an important role in divorce settlements?

As pet ownership continues to grow in popularity and more research is done into the benefits of keeping a pet, their appearance in divorce settlements will only become more frequent.

A pet offers companionship to all of the members of a family and reaching a fair arrangement for all involved is key. There has been a surge in high-profile divorce settlements involving pets and in 2016 the film ‘Who gets the dog?’ highlighted the issue further. Although there are no official statistics, lawyers say they are seeing significantly more cases involving pets, with some estimates citing as much as a 30 per cent rise in the last 2 years.

The pet is the entirely innocent party in all of this, and this is important to keep in mind. The Dogs Trust says the charity has seen a 290 per cent increase in dogs being abandoned because the human relationship has broken down and no resolution has been reached. Pets are life-long investments and individuals should not underestimate the level of commitment required with a pet. Pets play a pivotal role in families and careful consideration should be made with regards to their involvement in family life going forward.

If you have any concerns you wish to discuss in relation to this matteror family law in general, contact Emma Piff on 0116 212 1000 or email epiff@lawson-west.co.uk.  

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