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Divorce and the family pet, Kirsty Morbey comments

As an experienced family lawyer, the advice I always give to a client on separation is to try and sort out the division of personal possessions directly with their former partner. My reasoning behind this is that the value of most possessions is purely to the people who love them, as they rarely have any real monetary value and therefore, it is not a good use of limited funds for legal bills, to pay me to argue over possessions.

How does this apply though to the family pet, a living, breathing creature, who may even have been treated as a surrogate child? The answer is that more and more people are prepared to consult their solicitor over the issue of a pet.

A survey out last week confirmed that legal battles over pets on the breakdown of a relationship are becoming as expensive and emotional as those over children. 20% of couples fight over their animals and a further 20% of separating couples actually draw up formal access arrangements for their pets. The survey was carried out by Co-Operative Pet Insurance and found that 1 in 10 couples stated that the pain of losing their cherished pet was worse than losing their partner!

The situation in that regard has not been helped by high profile battles over pets, such as Cheryl and Ashley Cole, who fought over their Chihuahuas Buster and Coco and former Big Brother couple Melanie Hill and Alex Sibley, who spent a rumoured £25 000 in legal costs to eventually agree a shared custody arrangement for their former rescue dog Poppy, who had initially cost only £70.

The fact is that it isn’t the monetary value of the pet that is the issue, but the emotional attachment. Pets are seen as a member of the family and just as someone would go to the ends of the earth to make sure that they were still able to see their child, they can also feel the same way about the family pet.

In my experience, costly legal battles over pets are still a rarity, but they do happen. A colleague of mine recalls how a client insisted on telling him about her attachment to the family fish and how it was imperative that she retain them. However, after pointing out that her talking about the fish had just cost her nearly £100 she quickly capitulated and allowed her former partner to keep the fish!

As an animal lover and cat owner myself, I fully understand the attachment to a pet. However, as a lawyer I will continue to advise my clients to try and take a sensible and reasoned approach to such matters, to ensure that the limited funds available to resolve a divorce and the financial issues arising are spent to achieve the best result possible.