Our pets, or as we like to call them, our fur babies, are increasingly part of our families. We shower them with love and affection. We laugh with them, we cry with them, we spend incredible amounts of money on them (current estimates are that Australians spent over $12 billion on their pets in 2017). So what happens when things get tough and you can’t live with your partner anymore? How do you decide who gets custody?
Principles of custody and legal guardianship do not apply to pets in the same way they do for children. Under current Australian law, pets are classed as property in the same way as a fridge, a pair of Jimmy Choos, or a collection of Star Wars figurines. The principle can be traced back to the 18th century and presumably has farming roots with no distinction between livestock and pets (also known as companion animals in many legal cases). As a result of this Rover and Fido are treated as “legal property” under the Family Law Act. Typically the value of the “property” is minimal unless they are of pedigree or used for breeding. If there is a value ascribed to it then it will be included in any financial settlement.
There are a number of ways of asserting ownership over the animal. Many states offer pet registration and chipping services where an owner is named on the registration. Breeding and pedigree documents will also identify an owner or owners. Beyond this, you may be able to show who has taken financial responsibility for the animal with vet bills, and sometimes who took the animal to puppy or cat school. Evidence of who provided care will be more difficult to supply but, usually, one partner will take greater responsibility for feeding, walking, and grooming. Post-separation care can also be a consideration, who has the space to look after the family goat?
There are no hard and fast rules about post-separation pet ownership, and it is rare for these matters to get as far as the courts. When relationships break down pets are just one of the many things that you need to think about. At Cairns Divorce Lawyers our family law experts can help guide you through this in the least costly and least stressful way.