Divorcing couples and their lawyers might understandably focus their minds on dividing their finances – usually the home, their savings, investments and business assets. Essential as those are it is sometimes  the family pet that can cause the greatest upset.

The law in England and Wales treats pets as chattels, much in the same way as other possessions such as cars and furniture.  Yet the impact of a losing the family dog to their ex-partner can be very distressing. If children are attached to the family dog, or cat, or (as in one recent case) python, the prospect of no longer sharing their home with their beloved pet can be devastating.

In the heat of emotions people often overlook the fact that disputes over pets can become extremely costly.  By far the best solution is to try to agree a compromise without the need to involve the court.

For couples unable to agree the courts can make orders for the transfer of a family pet to one party. When considering with whom a pet should live the courts retain broad discretion to take into account each party’s financial needs and resources as well as their ability to provide a level of care to which the pet is accustomed. It is often apparent that one party is more devoted to the care of the pet, however,  there will always be cases where, for example, a working husband who has walked the dog morning and night as part of his own daily routine, would be unable to take full time ownership and care on divorce due to the dog’s needs during the day (notwithstanding the impact on children). Even more so in the case of horses!

Couples with sufficient foresight might consider a prior agreement to be included in their pre or post-nuptial agreement. Couples who aren’t married can use a co-habitation agreement to predetermine what might happen in the event of a split.  While many couples are uncomfortable with nuptial or living together agreements in respect of their finances, dealing with the other “soft” assets of the relationship, such as pets, in this way might not be barking mad at all.

If you would like advice on any family law matter, please contact our family solicitors on 01782 205000 or email enquiry@beswicks.com