Divorce and dogs – what happens to the pets when marriages breakdown?

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For many people going through a separation or divorce, the arrangements for the pets (most commonly, the beloved family dog) is of critical importance. Your pet is likely to have provided you with comfort and companionship over a number of years, and losing them together with your relationship can be exceptionally difficult.

The family team at IBB are frequently asked about how the Court would deal with the ownership of a pet following the relationship breakdown. For some, it is upsetting to learn that in this jurisdiction pets are treated as a chattel (i.e. it has the same status as your sofa or antique clock). This means that, if required to decide “who takes the dog”, the Court must do so based on the considerations under Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

The Court would look at who has the dog, who is the registered owner, who paid for the dog and who is maintaining the dog financially. Often, one of the most important considerations will be the welfare of child(ren) of the family – leading to the dog being retained by the party with whom the children are to live for the majority of the time. The Court will not, however, consider the welfare of the dog in these cases.

Pursuing a Court Application in relation to the future ownership of a pet is very unlikely to be proportionate, especially if it is the only issue between the parties. Instead, parties will need to consider alternative dispute resolution options, such as mediation or arbitration.

Sharing care of a pet

It was recently reported in the media that Ant MacPartlin and his former wife have an agreement to share their Labrador Hurley. Arrangements to share the care of a pet are now common place, with the non-resident party having agreed times to take the dog out for a walk or have the dog for the weekend.


If you have a much-loved pet, you would be well advised to enter into a pet-nup with your partner. This can set out the financial and practical arrangements for the pet both during your relationship and in the event of a relationship breakdown, saving a lot of stress and heartache. A pet-nup won’t stand as a legally enforceable contract, but the Court would be likely to take it into account should it be required to decide the ownership of the pet.

Speak to our Family Law specialists

IBB Law’s family law practice can provide expert advice on all family law issues. To contact the family law team please email  familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk or call 03456 381 381.