Pet Custody – who gets the dog?

The purchase of a pet together is often a symbol of your commitment to each other and as time goes on, your pets become much loved family members. Now the relationship is over, you and your partner are separating and you both want to keep the dog. What are your rights? 

Pets are property 

Whilst the rules around child custody are clear, it’s not the same for pets. Animals are considered mere ‘property’ in the eyes of the law, even if they mean everything to you. Actually, pets aren’t mentioned in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) at all and it is left to the Court to decide who gets the family pet.  

The Court’s preference is for couples to work out ownership issues between themselves. Failing that, there are a few principles the Courts will apply when making a decision about pet ownership. They look at very factual scenarios rather than emotionally charged ones, like who wants the dog more. 

Among other things, the Court considers: 

  1. Who paid for the animal originally? 
  1. Whose name is the animal registered in? 
  1. Who currently has possession of the animal? 
  1. Who made more of a financial contribution towards the animal (i.e. who paid for food, veterinary bills and pet insurance); and 
  1. Who made more of a non-financial contribution towards the animal (i.e. who groomed, exercised and fed your pet). 

It’s not a hard and fast rule but where there are children involved in a separation, the Courts have also expressed that the family pet should remain living with the children at their primary residence. 

The Courts may also look at which party has the most suitable place for the pet to live. Common sense can usually prevail here, a house with a backyard is better than a modern apartment on the 9th floor for a large dog. 

What about pedigree pets and livestock? 

It’s a little different if you’ve got pets of significant value (purebreds) and livestock. The Courts in this case are more likely to include the animal as an asset for the purposes of making a property settlement. 

What should I do now? 

If you’ve recently purchased a pet with your partner, or you’re about to, we recommend you have an open and honest conversation about ownership of your furry sidekick in the event of a separation.  

It is also a good idea to keep a clear track record of your expenditure and care for your pet throughout your relationship. Addressing these issues now can save you a lot of hassle and potential legal costs in the future. 

If you’re going through a separation involving the disputed ownership of a pet we can help you. We can assist you to negotiate your asset split and the care arrangement for your pets with your partner and help you avoid the long and expensive process of going to Court. 

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember both parties want the best for the animal. If you need help resolving pet custody disputes or you want advice on how best to negotiate family law disputes with your partner, call us now on 1300 654 590

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Specialist Accreditation Family Law

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