Who Keeps the Dog, in a Divorce?
Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Many of us, are proud Mothers and Fathers to a dog, cat and various other pets, but what happens when you and your partner separate? Who keeps the pet?
A Member of the Family
There is a significant increase in couples bringing a furry member into their family and it is inevitable that a dispute will happen, following separation or divorce.
A four legged friend, is very much for most, a member of the family, and considered a child, by their owners, so naturally, when a separation happens, not only is there a custody battle for their human children, but also for their pets.
There is an estimated 51 million pets owned, according to the latest estimated figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PFMA).
Has Covid-19 Impacted Divorce Disputes Over Dogs?
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us to spend more time at home, with at times, our only escape was a daily walk, and what better than a furry companion, to give you a reason to leave the house for an hour?
There has been a significant increase in the number of couples welcoming new pets into their homes, with a total of 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, according to the PFMA.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a great deal of stress on relationships with couples forced to be cooped up at home together 24/7 and as a result divorce applications and break-ups skyrocketing across the UK .
The Blue Cross suggested that 1 in 4 divorces involved disputes about pets, however, with the increase in couples buying or adopting new pets it is possible that disputes regarding pets following separation and divorce may also be set to increase.
What is the Legal Status of a Dog in England and Wales?
Dogs and other pets are treated as chattels under English family law. Essentially, the family dog, is afforded the same status as the sofa, that you once shared with your partner. This may come as a shock to most, considering our nation is considered to be one of the most dog-friendly countries in the world.
It is clear, that the treatment of pets and their status in family law is outdated in England and Wales, compared to other jurisdictions, for example, Switzerland are leading the way with helpful dog laws, and restaurants even provide a dog food menu!
And in Alaska, in January 2017, a court ruled that the welfare or wellbeing of a family pet would be a crucial consideration when determining who should keep the pet. Judges have now been given the power to order joint 'custody' of pets as would be the position with any children of the marriage or partnership.
Surely, the court's approach should be just as the approach for a human child, should be 'in the best interests of the child', the same should be said for your four legged family member.
Ultimately, the judgment can come down to who purchased the pet, whose name is it registered in, whose name is on the microchip, who has funded the pet’s care (food, vets bills, insurance), which party is financially stable enough to support a pet and who has the most suitable home for the pet.
What Court Cases are there in relation to Custody of the Dog in a Divorce?
The court's are reluctant to become involved in a dispute over a dog, however, when custody of a pet becomes a contentious issue they may step in. One such issue may be when one parent has 'pet-napped' the dog. The court may make a ruling, similar to what happens when a human child is taken from one parent, by the other parent, and order the return of the dog.
There have been a few cases in England and Wales, relating to custody of pets, but there was one rare case in 2011:
RK v RK  EWHC 3910 (Fam)
In this case the wife made a claim to one of the family dogs. Mr. Justice Moylan held: “On the latter issue, I do not consider it appropriate to make any order in respect of one of the dogs because, on the evidence I have heard, they would seem to have been looked after principally by the husband”.
Is Mediation an Option to Decide who has Custody of the Dog?
Mostly, in England and Wales, solicitors mediate a large number of disputes involving pets and they never reach the doors of the court.
Issues to discuss will include:
What is in the best interests of the pet?
Who is best placed to care for the pet?
Who will meet the cost of caring for the pet?
If mediation does not work, a pet could be considered as part of an overall financial settlement on divorce.
Is there Such a Thing as a 'Pet-nup?'
Whilst, nobody plans to separate from their partner, and as uncomfortable and sad it may be to discuss the 'what if' your relationship does not last, having this awkward conversation early on will minimise heartbreak down the line.
The Blue Cross’ Pet Nup is the pet equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement, but with pet welfare at its heart. It sets out the right of ownership in the event of a divorce or relationship breakdown and covers ongoing pet care.
This blog article should not be taken as Legal Advice.
If you need help with Family Law Matters / Children Act Matters, please feel free to contact us on our website at; Help@inCourt.co.uk or call us on; 07375757510