Pet Custody in the UK.
The other day I was talking to a neighbour about a friend of hers who had recently split up from his wife. It was a sad situation, made all the more difficult because there was a treasured family dog involved. However, the couple in question had amicably come to the decision to ‘share’ the dog so that he lived with one person one week and the other partner the next.
According to the Dogs Trust, when people are thinking about divorce or separation, the family dog is often at the forefront of those decisions. In fact, more than a quarter of couples about to go through separation thought that the dog was the most important consideration; although hopefully not before the needs of any human children involved, as Dogs Trust points out.
For many people, the family dog is an intrinsic and important part of family life and as such, when human relationships break down, the family pet can become a source of argument and conflict in terms of who is going to keep the dog.
So where does the law stand exactly when it comes to custody of the family pet? Holidays4Dogs finds out.
In England and Wales the law is very clear on the matter. Pets are deemed as ‘property’ in the same way as a car or furniture. So, if the issue is raised in court, the person claiming the dog must prove that they initially purchased it and paid to care for it. Unfortunately, if the person who paid for the dog did not actually physically care for the dog on a daily basis, there is really nothing much that can be done about this; as unfair as it might seem. In addition, courts are also generally reluctant to engage in ‘custody’ claims over pets when there are far more pressing matters such as children and financial considerations such as property to consider.
In terms of pets, shared care is not normally a realistic option and so to come to an agreement like my neighbours’ friends, is unusual. Certainly, courts will not become embroiled in negotiations of shared pet care and all they will be interested in is, who the legal owner of the pet is.
In the US pet custody laws are changing, so whether this may impact eventually on the UK, who knows? Last year, in Alaska, a court ruled that the ‘well-being of a family pet’ (in this case a pet dog) would be a crucial consideration in determining which party should keep it. In addition, judges have been given the power to award ‘joint custody’ of pets in the same way it can with children.
However, one could imagine this might complicate divorce proceedings further, which may not be in the best interests of anyone, especially if there are children involved. Also, if pets are to be awarded on a welfare basis, this will attract an increase in fees to deal with a potentially much more complicated issue, which may also entail using animals welfare experts to submit reports. How practical this move is, is therefore up for debate.
For people facing divorce or separation it is always a difficult and traumatic time where emotions are often running high. Unfortunately, as it stands in UK law, the courts do not have the power to force someone to give access to the family dog, so the only real option is to try and work it out between both parties as amicably as possible, while giving consideration to the welfare of the dog, as well as other family members.
Because this can be a difficult issue for many people, the Blue Cross are encouraging people to have pre-nuptial agreements in place with specific regard to the family pet. They have partnered with divorce solicitors Lloyd and Platt and Company in an attempt to prevent pet owners from getting into upsetting disputes, which often results in dogs being handed in to rescue centres. In fact, the Blue Cross claim, that four pets every week are taken to their centres due to a breakdown in a family relationship.
The pet nup document can be downloaded from the Blue Cross website here https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-nup