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 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. They agreed the family pet would live with one person one week and the other partner the next. In this Holidays4Dogs article, we ask – where do you stand in law when it comes to pet custody in the UK?

According to the Blue Cross, 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 the family dog was one of the most important considerations of the process.

For many people, pets are an intrinsic, and important part of family life. As such, when human relationships break down, the family pet can become a source of argument and conflict in terms of who has custody.

The law.

In England and Wales, the law is very clear on the matter. Pets are classified as, ‘property’. Therefore, the person claiming the dog must, prove they purchased the pet and paid for it’s care.

However, courts are generally reluctant to engage in ‘custody’ claims over pets. This is especially so when there may be far more pressing matters such as children, and financial matters, to consider.

In terms of pets, shared care is not normally a realistic option, so to come to an agreement like my neighbours’ friends, is unusual. Certainly, courts will not become embroiled in negotiations of shared pet care.

They will only be concerned with establishing who the legal owner of the pet is. Of course, individual families are quite within their rights to privately agree the terms of sharing a family pet.

How does the law operate in other countries when it comes to pet custody?

In the United States, pet custody laws are changing. Whether this may impact eventually on the UK, who knows?  For example, last year in Alaska, a court ruled that the ‘well-being of a family pet’, 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.

However, one could imagine this might complicate divorce proceedings further. 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. Pet custody, therefore, is a tricky area. The only real option is to try and work it out together as amicably as possible.

This can be a difficult issue for many people. As a result, the Blue Cross encourage people to have pre-nuptial agreements in place. They have partnered with divorce solicitors Lloyd and Platt & C0. in an attempt to prevent pet owners from getting into upsetting disputes.

The Pet Nup document can be downloaded from the Blue Cross website here

Have you split with your partner? Need further help? Contact Cooper & Co Solicitors. They can also help with other cases of dog law such as if your dog bites somebody – Specialists in dog law  For information on driving laws with dogs, you can read our other Holidays4Dogs article here.

Cooper & Co Solicitors are Regulated and Authorised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority SRA 258139