Can I keep the dog?
Family pets and divorce.
For many couples who are facing divorce or separation the prospect of losing their beloved pet is appalling. It will come as a shock to discover that as far as the law is concerned your pet is treated no differently than a piece of furniture. Pets are “chattels” under English law and the family law courts do not give them any special status.
What can you do if you cannot reach an agreement over who should keep the family pet?
If your direct negotiations with your ex-partner fail then try mediation or arbitration first.
Going to court must always be measure of last resort. Unless you have to apply to court anyway to deal with other aspects of your financial arrangements asking a judge to make a decision on where the family pet should live would be prohibitively expensive.
What might the courts say?
There is limited guidance available on how a judge might approach a dispute over who a pet should live with. The starting point for the judge will be to work out the ownership of the pet. To whom is the pet registered (if it is registered at all?) Who paid for the pet? Who is paying the pet insurance (if any?)
If any child of the family has a particularly close bond with the family pet a judge might be persuaded to take this into account if any separation from the pet might have a negative impact on the child.
Some examples of court decisions about pets.
IX v IY  EWHC 3053 (Fam)
In this case the husband and wife owned two dogs and the court decided that they should each keep one dog.
RK v RK  EWHC 3910 (Fam)
In this case the wife was claiming one of the family dogs that the husband was looking after. The court having heard what both the husband and wife had to say took the view that it was the husband mainly who looked after the dogs. The judge refused to give one of the dogs to the wife.
Going to court is a risky exercise because it will be entirely up to the judge dealing with your case to decide who your pet should live with.
What can you do to guard against a falling out over who keeps the pet?
You have the option to enter into a “pet-nup” agreement which is like a pre-nuptial agreement but for pets. Such agreement can deal with who will look after and pay for the pet and more importantly who will keep the pet in the event of a marriage or relationship breakdown. If you have other assets to protect then it would make sense to have a pre-nuptial agreement or cohabitation agreement to deal with all your assets including the dog.
Are pet-nuptial agreements enforceable?
While there is no automatic enforcement of a pet-nuptial agreement it is extremely unlikely that a judge would ignore the arrangements for the pet that were agreed between a couple before they fell out.
Saika Alam is a well-respected Family and Divorce lawyer based in London, Mayfair. Known for her personal and practical approach many clients work with Saika on both their most complex, family, divorce and children related matters.