Pets can mean heartache

When a re­la­tion­ship breaks down there can be se­ri­ous dis­agree­ments about who gets to keep any beloved an­i­mals Cheshire Life: Jan­uary 2019

Cheshire Life - - Legal Life -

For any sep­a­rat­ing cou­ple, pets are an in­te­gral part of their fam­ily life and in some ex­treme cases cou­ples have cho­sen to have pets, par­tic­u­larly dogs, rather than hav­ing chil­dren.

Ob­vi­ously when those re­la­tion­ships break down there are ar­gu­ments about who gets to keep the dog.

As the law stands at the mo­ment, a pet will be treated as an item of per­sonal prop­erty and will be dealt with by the court. As such, if there is a dis­pute as to who the an­i­mal should ac­tu­ally live with the court will look at the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the pur­chase, who ac­tu­ally fi­nan­cially main­tains the an­i­mal, as well as who is look­ing af­ter it.

It will per­haps seem un­fair be­cause the an­i­mal will have prob­a­bly been loved equally by both. It is not like a piece of jew­ellery or fur­ni­ture: it can be more emo­tive and in some hor­rid cases it can ac­tu­ally be­come a bar­gain­ing chip.

If each party is de­ter­mined ‘to get the dog’ the is­sue can be­come ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, tricky and com­pli­cated and a great headache for a judge.

One idea that is of­ten worth ex­plor­ing is ac­tu­ally shar­ing the care of the pet, and although it might of­ten not be prac­ti­ca­ble it is an op­tion to con­sider.

A court, how­ever, will not be­come em­broiled in such con­tact ar­range­ments with a pet. Their pow­ers are lim­ited. They also need to deal with the prac­ti­cal as­pects as to who pays the vet bills etc.

If the mat­ter be­comes pro­tracted and dif­fi­cult then me­di­a­tion could as­sist. The par­ties could per­haps look as to what is per­haps more ap­pro­pri­ate in their par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances.

How­ever, please note that in a re­cent case in Alaska, which oc­curred in Jan­uary 2017, the court there ruled that the wel­fare or well-be­ing of a fam­ily pet should be a cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tion when de­ter­min­ing which party should get to keep it. Their judges have been given the power to or­der ‘joint cus­tody’ of pets, in par­tic­u­lar as to what would hap­pen with re­gard to chil­dren of the mar­riage. Are we head­ing that way? Chris­tine Barker Lay­tons, Man­ag­ing Part­ner (Manch­ester) and Head of Fam­ily Law. 0161 214 1600 Chris­[email protected]­tons.com

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