The beloved family pet, referred to by some as a fur baby, is often viewed by its owners as being a member of the family; a loyal, loving companion that greets you at the door when you arrive home. But when a couple separates, what happens to poor Fido? How does the law view the family pet?
Pets are Property
Notwithstanding the immense love that people have for their pets, the law treats pets as property. In the context of a separation, ownership of the animal will determine what happens with the pet; the person who owns the pet, keeps the pet. This means that when a couple is dividing up assets and personal possessions, they will also need to think about who is going to take Fido. Although the laws regarding pets as property apply universally to all pets, the most hotly contested disputes usually occur over dogs (sorry cats).
Custody of Pets
The laws governing children and custody do not apply to pets and, generally speaking, courts will not go down the path of ordering time-sharing arrangements for pets as they do for children.
How do the courts determine who is the rightful owner of the pet? The court will examine a variety of factors to determine which party owns the pet, including:
- Who paid for the initial cost of the pet (such as adoption fees), as well as who paid the expenses for the pet on a day-to-day basis;
- Indications of ownership, such as:
- Which party is the registered owner of the pet;
- Who does the vet list as being responsible for the pet;
- Who has been responsible for the care of the pet, including taking the pet to the vet, on walks, training etc;
- In some cases, the court will also look at the bond and attachment between the pet and each party.
Negotiating an Agreement
Notwithstanding that the law treats pets as property, if a separating couple wishes to, they have the option of preparing an agreement to set out how their beloved pet will be shared post-separation. So along as they agree, there is nothing to prevent a couple from creating their own agreement about a pet. If the couple cannot reach an agreement on how to share the pet, however, each person will need to be prepared to make a case as the rightful owner.
Going through a separation is tough and furry friends can be the perfect support companion. Make sure you know how to keep your dog in your life or have a discussion with your ex-partner on the next steps.