0151 239 1000
We’re a nation of pet-owners, so it is perhaps unsurprising that for many separating couples, custody of the beloved family pet is an issue that comes second only to the custody of their children.
According to a survey undertaken by the Co-Operative group in 2011, around 20 per cent of separating couples sought out legal advice and fought for the custody of their pets when their relationship broke down. In legal terms, the family pets are personal property and just like any other property they can be fought over by both parties in a divorce, or during proceedings to dissolve a civil partnership.
More and more of us view our pets as yet another family member rather than a possession. The 2011 survey found that for around 1 in 10 people, losing ownership of their pet was actually worse than breaking up with their partner in the first place.
This anxiety is one of the factors driving increasing numbers of people to seek professional legal advice from a family law solicitor to help them to retain custody over their animals.
We decided to ask Joanne Rowe, one of the solicitors in our Family Law department, for her take on the issue, and whether she had any advice for people concerned that the breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership could cost them custody of their pets.
“Cases involving custody of an animal can get very emotional, as many families will consider the pet to be almost an extra child as well as associating them with memories of happier times.
I’ve dealt with a few cases involving disputes over pets whose owners have been going through a divorce and from my experience each of these cases throws up some interesting and unusual challenges.
As far as I can tell, the courts have yet to adopt a standard procedure when it comes to dealing with animal custody disputes. Some judges will be keen to make a decision on the custody of the family pet as part of the divorce settlement, whereas I’ve had cases before other judges who make it quite clear that they want nothing to do with disputes like that.
I remember one case involving a client who applied for an injunction as she had left her partner due to domestic violence. At the injunction hearing, the judge made it clear he considered my client’s concerns over her dog, which was still being looked after by her ex-partner, a matter of ‘personal property’.
The judge went on to say that if my client wanted to recover her dog, she would need to make a separate application to the court to get it back. Eventually my client used her own initiative and recovered the animal from the garden of one her ex-partner’s friends.
In another case, which was a divorce, involving a couple with no children, but several cats, there was an agreement that the cats would stay with the wife, but there was an issue over whether the husband would contribute to the care costs of the cats. In my opinion, had the case gone to court, the wife would have been very unlikely to have been awarded any extra assets or a maintenance contribution for the cats.
Imagine my surprise then, when I was informed by the husband’s solicitors that he was willing to pay somewhere in the region of £200 a month in addition to the maintenance already agreed, just to care for the cats!”
As courts become more involved in animal custody disputes in divorces and civil partnership dissolutions, getting the right legal advice from solicitors who know what they are talking about is becoming increasingly important.
The Family Law team at Canter Levin & Berg understand that for many people who are going through the breakdown of their relationship, or who have faced abuse or threats of violence from their partner, the uncertainty over what might happen to a beloved family pet will only serve to increase the anxiety they are already feeling at what is always an emotional time.
That’s why whenever our solicitors take on a Family Law case, such as a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, we make sure that we listen to the wishes of you the client. We aim to understand what matters most to you, whether it is your pets, your other possessions or your home.
This enables our solicitors to work to secure you an outcome from your divorce or civil partnership dissolution that leaves you both financially secure and in possession of the things that really matter.