When a couple separates, arrangements are made for the division of their assets and the care of any children but what happens when beloved pets are also involved? Read on to find out how pets are dealt with as part of a separation.
Are ‘fur babies’ considered the same as human children?
In a word, no. There is currently no provision for pets in the Family Law Act and pets are therefore treated the same as other property such as a house, motor vehicle, or household items. It can often be difficult for pet owners to grasp this notion when they have an emotional connection to their pets and do not view them as ‘property’ but rather as family.
Who decides who will get the pet/s?
As with all property during a separation, the Court can make orders it deems appropriate to the parties and the circumstances, and the same consideration will be given to any animals involved. The difference between pets and other assets, however, is that pets usually hold sentimental value rather than monetary value and therefore cannot be sold to divide the proceeds between the parties. With this in mind, a Court will not look kindly on a party that tries to quantify the other’s sentimental value of the pet in an attempt to leverage the value for assets of a comparable financial value.
What will the Court consider when choosing a sole owner?
The Court will only make an order for property settlement where it is just and equitable having regard to the asset pool, the parties’ contributions, and future needs. In instances where a sole owner needs to be selected, the Court will consider the following factors:
- the financial impact of keeping a pet and how this could affect either one of the parties;
- who originally purchased the animal;
- if the pet is registered to one particular party;
- who the main caregiver has been throughout the course of the relationship; and
- if one party’s living arrangements are more suitable to pet ownership.
Can pets be subject to custody arrangements?
The Court may consider it in the best interests of the children to ensure the pet/s accompanies the children to each residence per a custody arrangement or, conversely, decide that the parent who has custody of the children or is the primary carer will already be under more stress than the other party and order that parent to take the animal/s.
Typically, however, the Court will make an order that just one party will take ownership of the pet, and this will be listed with other personal items going to that party.
My partner and I are separating amicably, but we both want the pet.
If you and your partner are separating amicably and have made an arrangement about the division of your assets and any children of the relationship, then there is no need to go to Court. In this circumstance, you should also be well placed to come to an arrangement about where the pet will reside or who will look after the dog at what time. If you both want sole ownership of the pet and cannot reach an agreement on your own, you may need to enlist the services of a mediator to assist.
If you are still having trouble reaching an agreement you may need to file proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia to let the Court decide who should take ownership of the pet.
Separations are difficult and dividing property can cause needless stress and angst. If you require assistance during your separation our experienced Family Lawyers can help, including with filing court proceedings where necessary.