Til Pet Do Us Part? Deciding on Welfare of Pets When the Relationship Breaks Down
It is estimated that half of all UK households own pets and for many they are considered an integral part of the family. Yet what happens to Dixie the cat or Max the dog if the family unit split up? Kate Ryan, a family law partner at IBB Solicitors looks at possible ways to agree the care during a break-up.
Some of you may have read headlines about the divorce of TV presenter Ant McPartlin and his wife Lisa. According to reports, the battle of assets isn’t just about money but who gets to keep Hurley, their dog.
However, under British law (unlike other EU countries), the welfare of pets is not considered the same as for children in the event of a split up, even if there is a deep emotional attachment to the animal. There is no clear guidance on how a pet is to be treated.
Clearly if one partner has been the full time or main carer of the pet, then there is a case to suggest there may be a stronger bond or attachment between the pet and this person. Likewise, a case could be presented that whoever purchased the pet owns the pet, the other party may equally argue they have shared the cost of looking after the pet and have an interest in the pet in the same way as you could a property.
However, before the pet pooch becomes a pawn in the battle (I’ve seen situations where this is done to intentionally upset or anger the other partner), couples splitting up need to take a step back and think of the best interest of their pet and not about scoring points.
Consideration must be given as to how both will be able to accommodate the pet’s needs – particularly if one works more than the other and will not be around to look after it. If so, an agreement could be drawn up detailing which days the ‘main worker’ could look after the pet.
As with the case of children, Courts prefer (wherever possible) joint custody so perhaps the best and fairest solution is 50:50 division. Remember to make sure that a written agreement over shared responsibility of associated veterinary costs is also drawn up at this point, so no further conflict ensues.
Kate was interviewed on BBC Radio London talking about welfare of pets.
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