Pets on Divorce – What are the Rules?
This week, a lawyer has hit the headlines suggesting that the law should be more focused on securing what is in the ‘best interest’ of family pets when couples separate. In 2012, the Co-Operative conducted a survey that found 20% of separating couples had taken legal advice regarding ownership of a family pet following divorce. As a nation of animal lovers, it is unsurprising that so many pet owners want to investigate the law relating to their animals. So, what are the current rules?
In English law, pets are considered ‘chattels’. This means that they are considered a possession, like a television, laptop or household furniture. When dealing with separating couple’s finances, the courts are reluctant to make decisions regarding chattels, and usually leave it up to the parties themselves.
However, the courts have been forced to deal with what happens to a family pet on a small number of occasions. In the case of RK v RK, a separating couple disagreed on who should retain ownership of the family dogs. The court refused the Wife’s application for ownership to be awarded to her on the basis that they were principally cared for by the Husband.
In another case called S v S, the court awarded a Wife £900,000 so she was able to afford a house that had sufficient land for the grazing of her three horses. Perhaps surprisingly, of her £80,000 maintenance award, £50,000 was specifically directed to be for the purpose of attending to the horses. The reason for such a high award was due to the major role played by the horses in the life of the Wife, with the consent and encouragement of the Husband.
However, it is far from likely that this will open the floodgates for such applications, as the judge stated that:
This was an unusual case, the result of which depended upon the particular position of a wife whose talent with, and love for, horses had during the marriage been a prominent and accepted feature of the parties’ lives.
In spite of these cases, the courts still prefer to treat family pets as chattels that should be dealt with between the parties outside of court.
This week, however, a lawyer at Northumbria Law School has made news by suggesting that the courts should deal with pets on divorce, and adopt the same approach as when dealing with arrangements for children. Deborah Rook has suggested that the courts should consider what is in the ‘best interests’ of the animals, and make an order placing them with the appropriate family member.
It is highly unlikely that the courts will take heed of this suggestion. Not least because our family courts are already overworked and arguments over what is in an animal’s ‘best interests’ are likely to require both time and money that the court, and most separating couples, don’t have.
It is always best to deal with as many issues outside of court as possible. However, sometimes people just can’t agree. At Hanne & Co, we are able to help. We have one of the largest family department’s in London with 15 specialist lawyers and over 160 years combined experience.
If you would like advice on any aspect of relationship breakdown, please contact our family department for a confidential discussion on 020 7228 0017.