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Who Gets the Dog? – A Guide to Pet Custody During Divorce

When going through a separation or divorce, it is perhaps no surprise that pets can often become a contentious issue.

Whilst the best solution is to come to a mutual decision with your ex-partner and settle the custody of your pet outside of court, this is not always a suitable option for all couples. If a decision can’t be mutually reached regarding your pet custody, then the question is… who gets the beloved pet? Keep reading this guide to find out everything you need to know about pet custody during a divorce.

What is Pet Custody?

If you are unfamiliar with the term pet custody, it simply refers to an agreement in which ownership of the pet is decided following the breakdown of a relationship.

Legalities of Pet Custody in the UK

From a legal standpoint in the UK, pets are considered property, also referred to as chattel. Despite pets often being considered as part of the family, they are given a similar status to furniture during divorce proceedings.

Whilst it can be a hard conversation to have, settling pet custody during your divorce or separation is better done outside of court to make sure any arrangements are what will work best for your pet.

If you and your partner are unable to reach a mutual decision on the custody of your pet, a court has the ability to order the legal ownership of the pet, return of the pet and for damages caused by wrongful retention of the pet. If the court finds that the pet is jointly owned, then they may order for the pet custody to be split.

However, unlike a child arrangements order, the court does not have the power to order for the legal owner of the pet to give the non-legal owner access to the pet. These cases are typically heard in the Small Claims Court, with applications often being made for declaration of ownership under the Torts Act 1977.

During a pet ownership dispute, a court will determine who the owner is by taking the following points into consideration:

  • written ownership
  • who purchased the pet
  • who is the key provider
  • who is registered with the vet, on the pet’s microchip
  • who pays for the pet insurance
  • if the pet was purchased as a gift


Mediation For Pet Custody

It is important to note that court is not the only option if you and your partner are unable to come to a mutual agreement on the custody of your pet on your own. Instead, your pet custody could be agreed on via the use of mediation, whereby mediation involves a third party who will attempt to help those involved agree on a settlement that works for both parties.

Mediation for pet custody is beneficial, as it can avoid the custody battle having to go to court and taking even longer than it needs to be, which can become distressing for your pet.

Avoid Pet Custody Battles With a ‘Petnup’

As many couples enter a marriage using a prenup to protect their assets in the event of a divorce, the same can be done with pets. A Pet Prenup is an agreement between you and your partner that identifies what will happen to your pet if your relationship breaks down, who has ownership and who would be responsible for ongoing pet care arrangements.

How Can the Ward Hadaway Divorce Solicitors Help?

When it comes to getting a divorce or separation, no two cases are ever the same, and we would always recommend seeking advice from a specialist divorce lawyer. The Ward Hadaway divorce team have years of experience in dealing with all aspects of divorce and separation, including pet custody, and are here to provide you with professional support and advice. Discuss your pet custody with our team here.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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