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“I’m taking the dog!” – Let’s think this through first

April 28, 2022

Family solicitor Megan Ryan-Loughran provides an overview of what happens to pets when couples separate in this article.

Often pets are considered by us as a part of the family. We joke that our pets develop personalities similar to ourselves, and we may often jest that the pet has a “favourite parent”.

When a relationship breaks down and there are pets involved, things can, on the face of it, get complicated. Some famous relationship breakdowns involving pets have included:

  • Johnny Depp & Amber Heard
  • Ant & Lisa McPartlin
  • Cheryl & Ashley Cole (as was)
  • Kristen Stewart & Robert Pattinson
  • Kirsten Dunst & Jake Gyllenhaal

In the eyes of the law in England and Wales, pets and children are viewed very differently. A pet is viewed as a possession in the same way that the rest of your household belongings are; the same way that you might disagree over who keeps the TV, for example. This means that should parties separate or get divorced, there is no specific law surrounding the animals of the family.

It also means that if a pet is registered to one party and the other party is refusing to return the animal, this could lead to criminal charges of theft.

So what should you do, if you are separating and there are pets involved?

It is always better to try to resolve issues amicably and without going to court. If you cannot come to an agreement yourselves, you could consider mediation to try to find an arrangement that works for both parties.

As with all relationships, parties may wish to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement: a ‘pre-nup’. This can, if parties wish, include reference to any pets of the relationship. This ‘pet-nup’ could set out what parties wish to happen to their pets in the event of a relationship breakdown, such as where the animal is to live, who is responsible for paying insurance and vet bills, etc. It is important to remember that pre-nups are not currently legally binding, however can be used to demonstrate intentions should the relationship break down.

If court proceedings are initiated, this could be a costly dispute, and the court may make a decision that does not benefit either party, in a similar way that a court may make an order that a house be sold if ownership cannot be agreed.

The Courts rarely make decisions on pets during divorce and financial proceedings, but if the issue is pivotal and an agreement cannot be reached, the court may consider who the registered owner of the pet is, who pays for the pet insurance, and who paid for the animal, if applicable.

On a broader scale, parties should also think about the welfare of the animal itself and what impact the separation will have on the pet. For example if parties are to downsize and there is no room for a pet, or if a party moves into rented accommodation where pets are not permitted. 

Similarly, if there are children involved, parties may wish to consider whether separating child and pet would have an impact on the child.

How AFG LAW can help

If you are separating, or considering separating, contact our family law team of specialists who can discuss the options available to you. We can assist either with an initial consultation, a more in depth advice appointment, drafting pre-nups, advising on/preparing separation agreements, or advising and lodging divorce applications. Email familysolicitor@afglaw.co.uk or call us on 01204 377600.