Earlier this year, Alaska became the first US state to pass a law allowing family court judges to take the well-being of animals into account when deciding who gets to keep the pets.
As a nation of animal lovers, it would be nice if the same could be said for here, but in England and Wales they are treated as a material possession – the same as your sofa or car.
Courts often see this as much more of a peripheral issue than most owners would like, but until a different approach is adopted in this country there are steps you can take to try and make sure the pets stay with you.
Proof of Ownership
In the absence of any formal ‘pet-nup’ agreement, the decision is likely to rest on proof of ownership or evidence that you are the main owner. This can be evidenced by:
- Receipts of purchase or adoption papers
- Who registered your pet with the vet and attends appointments
- Who pays the insurance premiums
- Who buys the pet food
At the point of purchasing your pet think about who pays for it; who is regarded as the owner and talk about what would happen if you separate. It might feel awkward but it could save a lot of heartache in the future. There is no limit on what a prenuptial agreement can cover - or a cohabitation agreement for couples who are not married – and no reason why it can’t include instructions relating to what happens to your pets if you split up.
If you are separating and cannot agree who keeps your pet you could also consider attending mediation. A mediator is a third party who will work with you both to help you to try to reach an agreement on the issue.
The choices people make in relation to their pets are often as individual as them. From agreeing to share the care of their pet equally - to keeping one pet each - to agreeing to pay pet maintenance. As with all divorces, it is not a case of one size fits all.
Call the expert family lawyers at Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online and we will be happy to help.
Sara Ismail is a mediator and collaborative lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Chester.