Pets and Divorce – Who Should Keep the Family Pet?

More often than not, families have a furry friend which become a big part of their lives. But when relationships breakdown, it is not uncommon for arguments to arise as to who the pet shall live with.

How are pets viewed in the law?

In England and Wales, it is the law that pets are considered as “chattels”. A chattel is defined as an item of personal property or something which belongs to you, examples of which would be a chair or a washing machine.

There are a number of factors which would be taken into account when making a decision as to where the pet should live. Such factors include who purchased the pet, who the pet is registered to and who pays the pets insurance. Although it is not the law, the Court may be swayed as to what is in the pets best interests, should you make an application to Court. For example, should your spouse/ex-partner work 10 hours+ a day, whilst you work from home, the pet may be best placed to live with you.

What can I do if I have a pet dispute?

There are a number of things which you can do when you have a dispute over a pet, which are as follows:

  • Negotiate directly with the other person

This of course will be dependent on your relationship with your spouse/ex-partner, and whether the separation has been amicable. It is likely to be more difficult between parties when the pet is older and you have a significant bond with the animal.

  • Instruct a Solicitor

It may be more suitable to instruct a solicitor to draft written correspondence to your spouse/ex-partner, setting out why the pet would be best placed with you. This may be useful if the relationship between you and your spouse/ex-partner is less amicable. The letter should set out your position in detail, taking into account whether the pets chip is registered to you, whether you are the person who pays the vet bills and insurance etc. If you are not this person, your correspondence should rely upon what is in the best interests of the pet, i.e. you could raise the issue as to who has care of the children and whether it is in the pet’s best interests to remain with the children.

  • Attend Mediation

Should solicitor’s correspondence fail, the next option would be to attend Mediation. There are a number of Mediators who will specialise with pets during separation, and research should be done to consider the most appropriate Mediator, prior to attending such appointment. Mediation allows parties to sit down with one another, and discuss matters with the assistance of a Mediator, who is an impartial person. The Mediator can provide you with details of the law, however they cannot advise either party. The Mediator must remain fair and neutral.

  • Attend Court

Finally, you have the option to issue Court Proceedings, although this is rare and is questionable as to whether it is appropriate, taking into account the costs of making such application and the age of the pet.

What steps can you take to avoid such disputes?

Pet-nups, similar to pre-nuptial agreements, can be drafted at any point during the parties’ relationships, and can stipulate the following:

  • Where the pet lives
  • Who pays for the insurance
  • Who pays the vet bills
  • Who pays for the upkeep
  • Who makes decisions in relation to medical treatment
  • What happens should the relationship/marriage breakdown

Further information could also be drafted into the document, i.e. whether the other party can continue to take the pet out, or spend time with the pet, upon your separation.

It may be advisable for such document to be drafted as this avoids added animosity between you and your spouse/ex-partner upon separation. Of course, the older the pet, the more likely that discussions over the pet will become confrontational.

However, similar to pre-nups, pet-nups are not legally binding and the law does not recognise such agreements presently, although should the terms of such pet-nups be sensible, and within the best interests of the pet, certain factors may be upheld by the Court.

Should you be interested in drafting a pet-nup, or would like to obtain any further advice in relation to this topic, please contact the office on 01942 206060 or our Trainee Solicitor, Megan Brookfield at

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