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This article was published on March 12th, 2019
One common thing when a marriage fails is deciding what becomes of any family pets. Quite naturally, we Family lawyers tend to concentrate much more on the children and the money, often forgetting that the family dog or cat is an important element to be considered.
There is no specific law about how a Court will decide who gets to keep the family pets. Pets are treated in the same way as what lawyers call “chattels” – inanimate objects such as cars or furniture. Whether or not the animal has any value, and irrespective of who owns it, a pet is just part of the assets to be distributed between the parties as part of the divorce settlement. That means that the Court has the power to transfer ownership between parties in the same way that it can transfer land or other inanimate objects. However, the law does not say anything specific about how should court will decide who gets to keep the family pets. It might be that the decision is influenced by who had been mainly responsible for looking after the animal during the relationship. One of the factors generally considered by the Court in finances is the needs of dependent children so it may be that a Judge would use that as a reason for ensuring that a much loved pet remained in the household with the children to avoid them having the distress of an animal being taken away from them. However, it might be the case that a Judge declines to spend Court time on deciding about pets and simply orders that they should be sold and the proceeds divided.
There are then the financial aspects to be considered. The Court can take into account the “reasonable financial needs” of the parties and there is no reason why this cannot extend to all the costs associated with keeping an animal.
As with most other aspects of relationship breakdown, the best way to approach this sort of issue is to have dialogue to try and negotiate a compromise. If a case becomes before a Court the only certainty is that it is likely to be extremely expensive, stressful and divisive.
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