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
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