Bloomberg has run an online article today on how the courts treat the division of pets on divorce. It might seem to many to be a source of great amusement…I recall being at court late into the evening once while a battle over the koi carp went on for hours…until someone suggested that they should be given to the microwave!
But losing a pet at the same time as a spouse can be a step too far for many of my clients. The Dogs Trust has recently conducted a survey which found out that a quarter of all couples divorcing or separating believe that their dog would be the most important thing for them if they split up. The rise in dog-custody battles is partly due to the rise of ‘mutternity’ – young couples who get a dog before having a baby. ‘For couples who don’t have children, the dog can be like a surrogate child.
However, while the UK courts can, and will, make an order if necessary, they will treat a pet like a piece of furniture and not like the family member they can feel like to their owners. It can transfer ownership of the animal in the same way as it might for a car. In order to help the judge decide, evidence can even be given at trial as to which one of the couple had primary responsibility for the pet during the marriage.
In a Divorce, Who Gets to Keep the Family Dog?
Divorce courts usually treat pets like property, even if their owners see them more like children.
Almost 80 million U.S. households, own a pet. For every five American couples who get married in a given year, two couples get divorced. At a time when Americans increasingly are delaying having children, pets can be the most crucial question raised by a divorce or breakup: Who gets custody of the companion animals? Yet courts have little to say on the issue.
Traditionally, the law sees pets as property, no different from a couch or a house plant.