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Legal insights & industry updates

| 2 minutes read

Who gets the pet?

We are a nation of animal lovers.  It is estimated that more than half of UK households own a pet, with dogs and cats being the most popular choice.  For many, a pet is a much loved member of the family and this means that the issue of “who gets the pet?” comes up in many separations.  It can be very contentious and sometimes difficult to resolve.

Who owns the family pet when a couple separates?

Pets are not given special status in law when we are talking about divorce, and they are treated as property which is owned.  Although pets are often thought of by their owners in a similar way to children, the best interests test is not relevant at all in arguing who should keep the pet.  So the fact that a pet has a stronger bond with one of the separating couple, or the fact that one person cares for the pet, or takes it out for walks more than the other, is largely irrelevant.  As a general rule the person who is the registered owner of the pet will be the legal owner, but if a pet is not registered then you would need to look at who bought the pet in the first place.  That could become difficult if the pet was paid for with joint funds, or even if there are no records of who paid for it. 

What can you do?

It may be possible to apply to the Court for a transfer of ownership of the pet from the person who owns it to you, if that is desired, but it is unclear how this would be treated by the judge and what factors would be taken into account.  There have been no reported cases where this has been decided.  What a court will not do is regulate time a pet spends with each person, like a child contact arrangement.  This leaves couples trying to deal with a very emotive subject in a pretty emotionless way.

In Scotland couples are given largely free reign to reach their own agreements, or contracts, in relation to all the matters which arise as a result of their separation and so it is encouraged that couples attempt to reach their own solutions for a pet, which would avoid having to rely on the otherwise rather stark legal treatment.  There are lots of solutions to consider, and you will know what might work in your circumstances. There are practical considerations too, such as the new living arrangements for each person and whether the accommodation allows pets, whether the carer is around for enough time to look after a pet during the day, or at night, or has adequate time to do all the walks or caring the animal needs, and who pays for the vet bills, food etc.  You may choose to share the pet between you, which could be a good solution to work around work commitments and share the costs.  Pets are often pretty expensive to take care of. It could be agreed that the pets move with the children, especially if there is a strong bond between the children and the pet, although this is likely to work better with dogs than cats perhaps.

It is not uncommon for us to include arrangements for pets within separation agreements and for couples to want to consider the pets’ wellbeing and future care, when they are separating.  We can help you think about the practicalities and the legalities of the future arrangements for a family pet.