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Pets On Divorce

Often, one of the most heart breaking parts of separating from your wife or husband can be the prospect of being separated from the family pet.  It is understandably frustrating when you find your lawyers are more focused on property, pensions, chattels of significant value and the children.  

A pet is in effect treated the same as any other content from the house or car and is in legal terms a chattel.  Some chattels have significant intrinsic value such as an antique writing bureau, or an exotic car.  However, other chattels have little or no cash value but are of overwhelming importance having sentimental value.  Dogs and cats etc generally come into this category. 

There have been recent headline grabbing titles given to agreements concerning pets known as “Pet Nuptial Agreement – Pet Nups”. 

These are no different to any Pre Nuptial Agreement (an agreement entered into before parties marry to set out what is agreed in the event the marriage fails) or a Separation Agreement. 

Pre Nuptial Agreements are based on what each party’s assets are and deal with all aspects of how financial matters are dealt with on a split – but not usually pets.  It would therefore be worth including a clause within that Agreement to deal with custody or the sharing of time an animal spends with each party in the event of separation.  The alternative is a separate Pet Nup documents.  A separate document is going to cost in the region of £500-£750 plus VAT – assuming agreement. 

Without these agreements the position is the registered owner of the pet (such as their name having been entered on the purchase invoice and/or pedigree documents) will keep it.  The alternative to that would be the “best evidence rule” as who can show sufficient evidence they purchased the pet or it was gifted to them.  Additional circumstantial evidence may include who has obtained the insurance or is the registered owner on a micro chip.  Don’t forget some pedigree pets can cost many thousands of pounds. 

The agreement should cover care of the pets between separating parties, if the pet becomes unwell and has to undergo treatment at the vets this too can be very expensive. 

In the event a dispute went to Court we would expect it to form part of the overall matrimonial finances dispute rather than separate proceedings.  However, if the parties are not married it may be a stand alone matter in the Courts.  That can be expensive, particularly in the Small Claims Court where as in the Family Courts costs are generally not recoverable.  

As with children, we would hope in the event of difficulties in resolving a dispute concerning a pet that the parties undergo the assistance of a trained mediator to assist.  The sharing of a pet, like young children, does tend to require a stable routine and/or a high level of communication between the parties.

If you wish to discuss any of these matters in more detail then please contact Lee Marston at Clough & Willis by emailing him at lee.marston@clough-willis.co.uk