Pets can be one of a family’s most treasured possessions. People form bonds with them that can sometimes be akin to the bond one might have with another family member meaning that when two people separate, deciding what will happen to any pets can become a contentious issue. Children in particular can become very attached to the family pet. In America there can be court cases about pets similar to those cases dealing with who the children should live with and how much time they should spend with the other person but there is no equivalent in this country.

The decision concerning who gets to keep a pet leading on from a separation depends on whether or not you are or were married. If you were not married then in the eyes of the law the animal is treated as nothing more than a personal possession or “chattel”. This basically means that the pet belongs to the person who paid for it. This could be evidenced by a receipt or invoice or a bank statement confirming who made the payment.

If you are married then the situation is a little more complicated. Again, the animal is treated as though it was a personal possession but it will not necessarily be the case that the person who paid for it gets to keep it. The animal can be considered as part of the overall financial settlement and one of the things that the Court will consider when ordering a settlement is fairness and the needs of each party. An example might be that a husband and wife have a joint savings account containing £10,000.00. They also own a caravan worth £7,500.00 and a pedigree dog worth £2,500.00. To achieve fairness and to ensure that both parties’ capital needs are met the Court might order that one party should have the savings account transferred into their sole name and the other should have the caravan and the dog’s pedigree papers transferred into their sole name. In making such a decision, the Court can also take account of the fact that one party’s income needs might be more if they are to have the animal living with them in that they are going to have feedings costs, vets bills, kennel costs etc.

The Court can decide who a pet should live with when a marriage breaks down as part of an overall financial settlement but feuding spouses should be aware that the Courts are not likely to take too kindly to expensive litigation being initiated to resolve such an issue.

As always, prevention is better than cure. If you own a pet and have no intention of getting married then you should consider asking a family lawyer to prepare a Cohabitation Agreement. This can deal with what should happen to all your finances and what should happen with any pets should the relationship break down. If you plan on getting married then a Pre-Nuptial Agreement can be drawn up dealing with similar issues. Even if you are already married, you can still enter into a Post-Nuptial Agreement setting out you and your spouse’s plans in the event of a marriage breakdown. It can never be guaranteed that such agreements will be upheld in Court and you should therefore consult a specialist family lawyer for advice on how to make them as watertight as possible.

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