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According to the PDSA figures released in February 2020, 51% of UK adults own a pet. A BBC report dated 12/03/2021 stated that a total of 3.2 million households in the UK had acquired a pet since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. The report went on to quote “the Country now has 17 million pet-owning households”.

A pet is an integral part of a family and many care for a pet as they would a child. So, with solicitors declaring a boom in divorce since the start of the pandemic, many of those experiencing a relationship breakdown may be worrying about who will be able to keep the pet.

The Law

At the time of writing, Spain was set to approve plans to give power to their Courts to decide who would be given custody of a pet in the event of a separation, nullity or divorce. If the vote passes Congress, it would go to Parliament for the law to be changed to recognise pets as “sensitive living beings”.

Unfortunately, the law in England & Wales still doesn’t recognise pets as “sensitive living beings”, but as “chattels”, in other words, personal property such as an item of jewellery or furniture.

When dealing with disputes over pet ownership after a relationship breakdown, it is usually the case that if a pet was owned by a party prior to the marriage, then that individual is more likely to retain ownership. If it was acquired during the course of the marriage, ownership will still often revert to the individual who bought it, or to whom the pet is registered to and/or who cares for it on a daily basis. Evidence may be required in the form of pet registration/payment of veterinarian bills.

In some cases, pedigree pets such as dogs and horses can be quite lucrative and therefore may be allotted a financial value which would be used to negotiate a general financial settlement, as the Court would with any other expensive matrimonial asset.


Practical Points to Consider

Pets can be an afterthought, which can easily happen if parties are focusing on arrangements concerning children and finances. Listed below are some questions to consider when trying to resolve arrangements for pets following a relationship breakdown;

  1. Who purchased the pet? Do you have evidence?
  2. Can you afford to keep the pet with you and can you afford to spend money trying to resolve the arrangements?
  3. If an individual is moving into a rental property, will the tenancy agreement allow you to keep pets?
  4. If you have children, would it be sensible to separate them from the family pet?
  5. If the pet was bought by both parties, were there any discussions as to who would keep it in the event of a separation?

Last year, celebrity presenter, Ant McPartlin and his former wife, Lisa Armstrong, were both awarded joint ownership of their pet dog. Just as Pre-Nuptial agreements set out what happens to assets if parties separate, a “Pet – Nup” is a document in which visitation and living arrangements can be agreed upon prior to a separation.

A Pet – Nup is a useful tool which in the long term, can save a lot of stress and money during a divorce. With so many people relying on pets to help with their mental health, ensuring that you get to keep them can be just as (if not more) important as an expensive item of jewellery.

If you are finding it difficult to deal with the issues raised here, please contact our Family Law Solicitors at Consilia Legal, to arrange a free initial consultation on 0113 322 9222 or via email