Who gets the dog?
During lockdown there has been a rise in pet ownership with many people paying thousands of pounds for ‘pandemic puppies’ to help them get through the lockdown boredom. This also means in the future there is likely to be a rise in pet custody battles if their relationship breaks down.
Fuelled by reports of celebrity disputes over who gets the dog and with a rise in more flexible working from home, people are spending more time with their pets and unsurprisingly don’t want that to end if their relationship does. Also, many people who may have contributed thousands of pounds to the purchase and ownership costs of a pet may be keen to recoup some or all of those costs when a relationship ends. Sadly, in some instances the ownership of a pet is used as a way to ‘get back’ at the former spouse or partner.
So what can you do if your much-loved pet becomes a sticking point in your divorce or relationship breakdown?
In law pets are viewed as a chattel, so no different to an item of personal property and legally a pet is viewed as a matrimonial asset and it will not be treated in the same way a child would.
Often the question of who bought the pet will be used as evidence of ownership as well as who pays for ongoing costs such as veterinary bills. Typically, a judge might take the view that a pet should remain in the home it was left in, but they won’t help arrange for visiting hours, financial support or other important decisions. This is the responsibility of the owners to agree.
It is therefore advisable if you are planning to purchase a pet that you personally want to retain or share ownership of in the future, you also make a formal ‘pet-nup’ to address these issues of ownership and expenses in the future. Don’t forget that the average life of a larger dog can be 11-13 years and smaller dogs live longer, for an average of 13-15 years. The joint ownership of a pet therefore could tie you to a previous relationship for much longer than you might anticipate.
As with all matters which involve a major financial, time and or emotional commitment, it is important to think through the full consequences, as the commitment to any pet should be for the duration of its life, whatever life throws at you.