Who gets the dog when we divorce?

While there is a lot of emphasis on finances and children during divorce cases, the one thing that can tip divorcing couples over the edge is deciding on who gets to keep the beloved family pets.

Who gets the dog (or cat, or hamster) during a divorce is a very contentious issue and there are currently no specific laws in the UK for how pets should be treated.

Pets are counted as ‘chattel’, which translates into layman’s English as a possession. They are legally regarded to be the same as the furniture, TV and dish washer. However, to most responsible pet owners they are much more than that.

The ideal situation is that couples work out between themselves who has the pet, but if it does go to court, the judge is likely to look at who bought the pet, the registration details and who has spent the most time looking after it. However, there is no set practice that judges are obliged to follow, so the outcome can’t be predicted.

The sad truth is that many pets outlive their owners marriages. Dogs and cats often live for a healthy 15 years and a lot of relationships don’t. Many couples also buy a pet together before having children in order to test the waters for the strength of their relationship. However, if this test fails then they are left with a big decision to make.

Use mediation during your divorce

One solution is to include any existing pets in a pre-nup before marriage. However, if there is no pre-nup or you are fighting over a pet that you have bought since marriage, then we strongly recommend using mediation, rather than taking the issue before a judge.

Pets can invoke strong feelings in people, and occasionally cause more distress than sharing custody of children. Often it is obvious how to divide up time with the kids, but it is not obvious who should have the family pets. If you feel like you have given up a lot in the divorce settlement, no longer seeing your beloved dog may be the last straw.

Talking it through during a mediation session may help whoever backs down to accept the decision and will help you to reach the best decision. Before an unwavering stubbornness sets in, you have to ask yourself some questions, as the decision will greatly affect the welfare of an animal and may also cause further upset to your children:

  • Do I have enough time to look after a pet?
  • Do I have enough finances for unexpected veterinary bills?
  • How much will my children be affected if they are not with their pet?
  • Is dividing up time with the pet fair on the animal?
  • Can I keep a pet in my new accommodation?

If you still think that it really is right for you to have the pet, then ensure you discuss this issue openly with your divorce solicitor and be prepared for a drawn out battle if your partner does not want to back down.

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