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The UK treats pets as chattels which is on the same level as a fridge, sofa or table. While there are murmurs of this changing in the future, nothing is set in stone. Spain has a law that makes pets an official family member, perhaps the UK will follow suit.

What happens to pets in a divorce? 

Using collaborative law, it may be possible to deal with pet disputes quickly and easily. Of course, this amicable resolution isn’t always possible, and we are here to advise where necessary. 

If this doesn’t work, though, solicitors can help as mediators. We’re trained to cover all aspects of family law and are used to dealing with pet-related issues as part of separation negotiations. 

In simple cases, a formal letter from a trained specialist setting out your position may help you and your partner to resolve the issue. In more complex cases, the next step could involve arbitration, an alternative to court proceedings. Arbitration will still result in a binding outcome, but it can be much quicker and more cost-effective than going to court. 

Can I go to court to keep my pet?  

It’s worth noting that there are things you can do to futureproof your rights regarding custody of pets in separation or against losing your pet in a dispute. Having documents like microchips and vet bills in your name proves that your pet belongs to you.  

Courts do have the power to decide what happens with chattels but taking the matter to court should always be a last resort. You should make sure you’ve explored all other ways to resolve the issue as court proceedings can be costly and time-consuming for a separating couple. 

A court is not able to take the feelings or interests of the pet into consideration. They will, however, consider the well-being of a pet with the court prioritising a healthy environment. You may be able to present an argument for them to consider custody in the same way they’d consider dividing your assets. In some cases, the shared custody of beloved pets can be granted with care for the pet shared after divorce proceedings.  

We’d recommend exercising caution when considering court action – especially if there’s a chance you might not get the outcome you’re hoping for! 

Should I get a ‘petnup’? 

A petnup is an informal term for a “pet pre-nuptial agreement”. It refers to a plan for custody of your pet in the case of divorce or separation. 

While petnups are not legally binding, courts are likely to take them into account. Where divorce and pets are concerned it’s important to set the groundwork for courts to see them as a member of your family not an item of personal property.  

If it’s important to you, it might be worth thinking about agreeing with your partner to cover what will happen to it if you decide to separate. 

If you’d like advice on any aspect of family law, including pet custody, divorce or separation, our specialist team is here to help. Get in touch today.

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