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Pet Custody: What Are Your Rights And Entitlements?

If you’ve decided to separate from your spouse, chances are you are wondering how you will go about with parenting arrangements and dividing your assets/property when the time comes to go your separate ways. But where do your cat, dog (or any other shared animal for that matter) fit into this equation? Pets are well regarded as valuable family members, which is why it comes as no surprise that there is often a fair amount of tension and disagreement when it comes to pet custody after a divorce. If you find yourself in this predicament, we’re here to help. Today, we look at what your rights and entitlements are when it comes to your beloved fur babies, so read on to find out more. Pets Are Property It may sound controversial or even upsetting, but in the eyes of the law, pets are property and are not mentioned in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) . Because of this, your shared pets are considered a part of your property settlement when separation occurs. This is often a difficult concept for many to grapple with due to the emotional attachment we naturally have with our pets. In the majority of cases, the Courts will make an order and award a pet to either party in the same order that lists other personal property. Because the Family Law Act has yet to distinguish pets from property, they will make decisions regarding pets in the same way they might consider any other family asset: will consider pets in
  • Who purchased the pet?
  • Whose name is registered on the pet’s microchip?
  • Who cares for the pet?
  • Who feeds, cleans and walks it?
  • Who pays for the pet’s insurance?
  • Whose name is it registered in?
For more on how the Courts decide on property division, be sure to check out our previous blog article.

What Are Some Of My Options?

Some couples choose to pre-determine their financial position at separation, also known as a Binding Financial Agreement. Your BFA will entail a clear outline about exactly what will happen to your assets at the point of separation or thereafter. It is important to note that there is absolutely nothing stopping you from including your pets in these agreements! If there is a child involved, we encourage you to take your child’s emotional needs into account when making a decision on who gets to keep a pet. In many instances, parents end up deciding to let a pet live wherever a child is living to reduce the chances of separation anxiety or emotional distress. Mediation Can Be Incredibly Helpful Generally speaking, the Court’s preference is for couples to work out ownership issues amongst themselves. This is where family lawyer-assisted negotiations or mediation can be an incredibly powerful tool. Ideally, you and your ex should try your best to come up with a mutual agreement as to who will take ownership of a pet after separation or divorce. Increasingly during mediation, “Pet Parenting Agreements” are made, where parties agree on factors such as who the pet lives with, who does changeover, basic care agreements, what vet the pet goes to and so on. Although pet parenting agreements are informal, they can be incredibly helpful if you choose to share the responsibilities of your pet with your ex-partner.

What If We Can’t Come To An Agreement?

As mentioned above, if you and your ex-partner fail to come to an agreement on who will get your pet, there are a few principles the Courts will apply when making a decision about pet ownership. Do keep in mind that the Courts look solely to factual scenarios rather than emotionally charged ones. For example, one of these scenarios can be as simple as who wants the pet more. Whichever way it goes, it is important to note that there is no such thing as a formal or court-ordered custody arrangement for pets. If you find yourself in this difficult situation, getting in touch with one of our expert family lawyers can be beneficial.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, there are no right or wrong ways of dealing with pet ownership or custody in the event of separation. Every case is unique and poses its own challenges, and outcomes can vary depending on your individual circumstances. If you are struggling to come to an agreement with your ex-partner, mediation is always recommended. At the end of the day, any decision you make with regard to pet ownership should always prioritise your pet’s best interests in the long run. ___________ If you are going through a separation involving a dispute of pet ownership, the expert team at Oxford Partners is here to assist. Our experienced family lawyers are able to assist you in negotiations to help you avoid the long and expensive process of going to Court.