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What happens to your pet after divorce?

Divorce is an unfortunate and stressful situation to go through, and it can often be made worse when a beloved family pet is involved.

Our furry friends are the heart and soul of the family unit so when a couple separate, deciding who gets custody of the pet can cause major disputes.

Here’s what happens to your four-legged friend in the event of a divorce…

Pets in the eyes of the law

When a divorce case involves kids, the courts will make decisions with the children’s best interests in mind. But it's not the same for our furry family members. Although the majority of us consider our pets part of the family, the law does not view them in the same light. They are seen as somebody’s possession, much like a car or piece of furniture, so it’s largely expected for both parties to decide between themselves who will care for their four-legged friend.

Part-time ownership

To avoid heartache and costly proceedings, it's best if the couple are able to come to a mutual decision on the care of their pet outside of court. It’s important to prioritise the animal’s needs and consider work schedules and other commitments. If both parties believe they can facilitate co-ownership, it may be possible to care for the pet on a part-time basis. This is a great option for couples going through an amicable split as both partners will be able to spend equal time with their four-legged friend.

Court proceedings

If both parties cannot civilly come to an agreement over who should keep the pet, the court will get involved to dispute this legally.

Most commonly, ownership is decided based on how the animal entered the relationship. For example, if one partner owned the pet prior to the marriage, it’s likely that the court will rule in their favour. But if the animal was purchased as a gift, the recipient will usually gain sole ownership. The court will also look at who primarily cares for the pet, who pays the vet bills and whose name is registered to the microchip.

Families with kids may see a slightly different outcome though. Understandably, children often grow an attachment to their family pet, so it may be deemed in their best interest for the animal to reside with the parent who has main custody of the child.

Influencing the decision

Some couples decide to sign a pre-nuptial agreement prior to marriage, stating which partner gets certain assets in the event of a divorce. Ownership of a pet can also be laid out within it.

The pre-nup will essentially become a contract, and can heavily sway the court’s decision so both parties must ensure that all eventualities have been considered and agreed on beforehand, including custody and maintenance costs.

Guest post by John Roberts, Partner and Director of Austin Lafferty. John has been with the firm for almost 20 years, with experience in all areas of family law, including divorce and separation, adoption and contact.

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