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Who Gets The Dog? - Pets and Relationship Breakdown

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We are beyond doubt a nation of animal lovers.  More than half of British households are said to keep at least one pet but what happens when you realise that although your love for your beloved pet is forever, your love for each other is not?


At Chapman Pieri Solicitors we have definitely noticed that the issue of arrangements for pets has become more prominent in the cases we are dealing with. This includes ownership and retention of pets as a term negotiated in Pre-Nuptial Agreements to divorce agreements which spell out custody/care and visitation rights through to settlements deferring the sale of a family home until the demise of beloved family dogs.


Whilst we endeavour to assist the parties involved in reaching agreements consensually, where does the law stand in the event that it is not possible to resolve matters by agreement?


There have been some well publicised canine disputes in the world of celebrity break ups.  When Johnny Depp and Amber Heard divorced last year, they got into a spat over custody of their Yorkshire Terriers namely, Pistol and Boo. Amber Heard reportedly applied for a restraining order to keep Depp away from one of the dogs.


When Cheryl and Ashley Cole divorced, Cheryl retained custody of their Chihuahuas Buster and Coco stating “there’s nothing like the comfort of your animals.  They are definitely more mine than his”.


Big Brother stars Melanie Hill and Alex Sibley reportedly spent £25,000 in 2006 battling over their Staffordshire bull terrier Poppy when their 3 year relationship ended.


As the law stands, pets are viewed as personal property much in the same way as cars or furniture.  There is no law required to take into consideration the welfare of pets.  Determining how the pet was purchased may be the first step to resolving ownership but it is not always as clear cut if the pet was purchased from joint funds.  It may also be relevant to look at the primary care giver and who paid for the dogs care during the relationship.


If there is a separation prior to any legal proceedings retaining care of the pet in the interim can be an advantage and taken into consideration as evidence of the actual caretaker of the pet and factored into the decision as to who retains ownership.


In other countries things are starting to change.  In Alaska, a new law has been enacted which enables a court to consider the wellbeing of animals upon divorce with a default option to assign joint custody.


It is always better to try and resolve matters by a process of negotiation and agreement and with our assistance we will help you come to an arrangement by looking at the overall circumstances and considering, for example; the work schedules of the parties, where the children (if any) will be staying, if one party works from home, whether pets will be allowed in the prospective accommodation, who has more outdoor space and, who is better placed to support the cost of care and whether visitation arrangements are possible and appropriate.


The ending of a relationship can carry with it huge emotional turmoil and pets can be such an integral part of that and as such, it is an issue that should be handled with the upmost sensitivity.