Family & Divorce

Who Keeps The Pets After Separation?

A growing question in Family Law disputes and property settlements is 'who keeps the pets?' writes TGB Family Lawyer Charissa Duffy.

who keeps the pets after divorce

A growing question in Family Law disputes and property settlements is ‘who keeps the pets?’ writes TGB Family Lawyer Charissa Duffy.

These days pets are often treated as family members.  Some people will admit that they feel they get more affection from their pet than their partner.  Some couples choose fur-babies (pets) over having children and treasure and spoil their pet as if it was their child.  So what happens to your pet when you’re separating?

Unfortunately, the law is yet to catch up with how a lot of people feel about their pets.  In law, your pet is seen as property.  In a property settlement your pet is seen as personal property categorised in the same way as your collection of photographs or CDs as an item of little monetary value.  The Court expects you and your partner will be able to negotiate who gets what of your personal property without assistance.  It is recognised though that items of personal property that have sentimental value and significance to you and your partner may become something the Court needs to make a decision about.

There is growing evidence in the United States of ‘pet custody cases’ being treated by the Court in a similar way to child custody disputes, where consideration of the ‘best interests of the pet’ are taken into account.  There has been some suggestion that Australia should consider legislative amendment to set out the considerations for who keeps a pet post-separation but at this stage it is still only the subject of academic debate.

So if you need to work out who is going to keep the pets after separation some considerations include:

– Who has the money to pay for the basics for the pet, pet insurance, vet bills etc?  Ultimately no matter how attached you are to your pet, if you cannot afford to keep them then it’s probably not best for your pet that they stay with you;

– Do you have a lifestyle that can support care of your pet?  If you are not able to be home and don’t have someone else who can care for your pet and your partner can work from home – your lifestyle might not be best suited to having your pet with you.  It is important that your pet maintains consistency of routine after you separate otherwise they can end up unduly stressed/anxious/lost in a new environment;

– Negotiate with your former partner and once you’ve agreed, stick to it. Any “he said, she said” and changing of routine will only end up hurting you, your former partner and your pet.  Talk frankly about what is best for your pet and try to be civil so that you both come to an arrangement you can live with;

– If you can’t reach agreement – seek advice from a lawyer with family law expertise.  Your lawyer will attempt to help you work through your issues with your former partner about your pet or may be able to negotiate on your behalf about the future care arrangements for the pet as part of your negotiations for property settlement.

For more information please contact Tindall Gask Bentley, with offices in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, our family lawyers will be pleased to help you with all aspects of your family law matters.