Divorce can unleash pet custody battles

Pets can be a source of huge emotional value. They are often described as being “a member of the family”. What happens, however, when that family splits up. Who gets the pet?

The court considers a pet as a chattel in the same way as it would a car or an expensive painting. Invariably if no accommodation can be reached between divorcing couples the courts will decide who ‘owns’ the pet. it Ownership of the family dog, for example, will be determined by who bought the dog, who paid for its licence, who registered the dog with microchip database etc.

Under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 a child contact arrangement order may be put in place whereby a child will live with one parent on a permanent basis but will get to visit the other parent on given days. This is not the case with a pet.

The Dogs Trust has reported that one fifth of separating couples have said that determining who will get the dog is as stressful as who will get the children. One should not, therefore,  dismiss the importance of pets when it comes to divorce. The courts may soon have to recognise the strong bond divorcing couples have to a dog or pet and make provision for who is responsible for vet bills, pet food, dog walkers cost etc. We may even see the rise of “pre-pup” agreements, shared pet custody or “doggy support”!

For advice on divorce and on any family matter please contact Enda Lavery for a free consultation.