Dogs in divorce – is it time to “paws for thought”?

They sleep in our bedrooms, they eat our home-cooked meals, and quite often they are adored more intensely than a spouse, so maybe we ought to “paws for thought” and consider our four-legged furry friends upon the breakdown of their owners’ marriage.

To be clear, pets, in the eyes of the law, are seen as chattels (goods). There is no specific legislative provision in relation to the ownership of pets and there is very limited case law. Typically, these types of disputes have arisen as an ancillary issue to a financial relief application. The court’s approach to chattels has been that they should be split by agreement between the parties, and if this cannot be achieved, the parties will be directed to draw up a Scott Schedule in which each party briefly states why the particular item is sought after.

It has been established that the ownership of a pet can be decided by the court, just like any other chattel the parties own; so now it is necessary to consider the relevance of a pet-nuptial agreement.

A pet-nuptial could assist the court in deciding who will retain ownership of the animal after the parties have parted ways. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a pet-nuptial, think of it as a pre-nuptial agreement but with the welfare of the pet at its heart. The agreement really should be considered before the pet has been bought. The pet-nuptial can cover anything to the care/contact arrangements for the pet to the grooming routine and which party is going to be responsible for paying the associated costs. Particular thought should be given to pet insurance and veterinary fees. Indeed, research suggests that the biggest bones of contention for parting couples and their pets are:

  1. The number of walks per day (41%);
  2. Frequency of grooming (34%);
  3. Vet check-ups (25%);
  4. How long pets should be left alone (24%); and
  5. Holidays (17%).

All of the above issues and more can be dealt with in the agreement, and one thing is for sure –  it is a lot more straight forward to discuss and agree these issues when the loving parties are deciding on whether Rocco’s food that will be guzzled down (without tasting) will be plant-based or merely organic, rather than when his owners are 6 years down the line and attempting to decide, in a not so amicable fashion, whether their blossoming wine collection really is a fair trade for the grandfather clock.

Take the lead on the matter now.

James Broomhall is an associate in Grosvenor Law’s family team, where he advises on a wide variety of disputes.

Rocco (pictured) is also a valued member of the Grosvenor law team.  

The contents of our blog posts do not constitute legal advice and are provided for general information purposes only