Who gets the Pet in Divorce?

The immense disruption divorce brings with it is often caused by such issues as the separation of assets and the custody of any children of the marriage and is one of the most challenging things that a couple can go through.  Increasingly another aspect thrown up by divorce is the question of custody of the pets.

Much loved dogs and cats lead the trend but other pets, often with relatively short lifespans, are also involved.  One couple argued over the custody of their rabbit for so long the rabbit passed away before the issue was settled. There have been some high profile pet custody battles played out in the public eye. Maria Carey and her former husband Nick Cannon had a prenuptial agreement and managed to separate their assets and agree on how the children were cared for but could not agree on the custody of their eight dogs that had been omitted from the prenuptial agreement.  Eventually, they had to go to court for a decision.  Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong, Liam and Nicole Gallagher fought bitter battles over their pets, whereas Taylor Swift retained her two pet cats but granted Calvin Harris visitation rights.

In a survey carried out by One.poll over a third of pet owners said they prefer their pets to their partners. Currently, in England and Wales, pets are regarded as chattels in divorce, meaning that pets are part of the property of the couple. The court can divide the assets of a couple in a divorce and can define who should have the care of a pet; it cannot grant access to a pet once one party has custody of the animal.  If it becomes necessary to revert to the court to settle the question of pet custody evidence must be presented in order for the court to make a decision as to who is the best position to look after the pet.  Annah Cheatham, an associate, commented “the couple can each put their case as to why they think that they should have custody of the pet and the type of evidence presented to the court could take the form of an invoice demonstrating who bought the dog, or whose name is registered with the Kennel Club or on a contract with a rescue shelter?  If the dog has been micro-chipped whose name is on the microchip database and recorded at the vet’s practice and on the insurance certificate? Who currently has the care of the pet will also be taken into account and how suitable they are to continue to care for the pet when deciding who is in the best position to look after the dog.  It is unlikely that custody will be given to a person who is out at work all day long leaving the animal alone in the house.”  Annah further commented, “Any legal dispute carries a cost and thought should be given as to whether a reasonable solution can be arrived at without resorting to legal action.”

The court does not have a duty to consider the welfare of the pet, however, this may change. Judges are inclined to leave the pet in the home it currently resides in and any access to the pet by the non-custodial partner has to be decided between the couple.The family lawyers at Giambrone point out the emotive issue of where and with whom the pet should live is more frequent than most people realise and can be every bit as upsetting to devoted animal lovers as child custody issues.

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