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At the moment UK law states that pets are treated as ‘chattels’ – which basically means that they’re given the same status as a fridge, sofa or table!

There are arguments for this to change – indeed Spain recently passed a new law to make pets official family members – but certainly nothing will happen in the UK for the forseeable future.

What happens if you decide to separate or divorce from your partner? Who gets the pet?

When you’re dealing with pets and divorce, it doesn’t have to be complicated and we’d always advise trying to negotiate with your partner regarding your pet. After all your beloved fur-baby will be important to both of you so it’s by far the best course of action for all involved.

However, if it’s impossible to resolve the situation amicably, you might consider involving a non-biased third party. This could be a family member, a close friend or other neutral party. You need to make sure that they don’t favour either side and just stay focussed on helping you to come to a satisfactory decision.

If this doesn’t work solicitors can help as mediators. We’re trained to cover all aspects of family law however complex, and we’re used to dealing with issues arising regarding the custody of pets as part of divorce or separation negotiations.

But if mediation fails or it’s not an option, it may be worthwhile considering formally instructing a solicitor. Sometimes a formal letter from a trained specialist clearly setting out your position may help you and your partner to resolve the issue.

If you find yourself in a situation where mediation or a formal solicitor’s letter hasn’t worked, the next step to try could be arbitration. Arbitration is an alternative to court proceedings. It will still result in a binding outcome, but it can be much quicker and more cost-effective than going to court.

When would you need to go to court?

Courts do have the power to decide what happens with ‘chattels’ (in this instance your pet) 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.

Circumstances that the court may take into consideration when making their decision could be things like who primarily looks after the pet, who paid for it, who pays pet insurance (if there is any) or is the pet registered to either you or your partner etc.

Unfortunately, a court can’t take the ‘feelings’ or ‘best interests’ of your pet into consideration but you may be able to present an argument for them to consider custody in the same way they’d consider dividing your assets.

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 you get a ‘pet-nup’?

The law doesn’t recognise ‘pet-nups’ as legally binding, however they are likely to take them into account. So, if it’s important to you, it might be worth thinking about making an agreement with your partner when you acquire your pet to cover what will happen to it if you decide to separate at any point in the future.

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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