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When Pets Come Between Partners

by | Feb 22, 2021 | Family Law

Do you have a fur baby that you are concerned about in the context of a dispute following a separation? Although there is a clear framework under the Family Law Act (Cth) for deciding what arrangements are in the best interests of children after a separation, this does not apply to pets.

Weirdly enough, animals come within the definition of property and are dealt with in the same way as assets like cars and chattels. There have been debates around this approach as all pet owners could speak about the emotional attachments that exist between them and their pets.

When determining a property settlement, the Court has a duty to make Orders that will finally determine the financial relationships between the parties, and avoid further proceedings. The Court is therefore unlikely to make Orders for shared ownership of a pet, or for both parties to maintain an ongoing relationship with the pet like they would for a child.

One of the four steps process in property settlement is determining the current value of the property available for division. Pet owners may deem their pets to be invaluable, and many companion animals will usually only have nominal market value. This may be different for pedigree animals or livestock that can generate an income. This is where expert valuers will come into play to ascertain their value.

In determining which party should be able to keep a pet, the Family Law Courts have considered the following:

  1. Who purchased the animal;
  2. If the animal was registered and in whose name;
  3. Who has had possession of the animal;
  4. Who made greater financial and non-financial contributions to maintaining the animal, including for pet food, vet bills, pet insurance, who fed/exercised/cleaned up after the animal and took the animal to appointments;
  5. If the parties have children, whether the animal should remain living with them;
  6. If one party will need to rely on the animal, if the animal is a service animal; and
  7. Whether the parties have appropriate accommodation.

It would be much more time and costs effective for parties to resolve their dispute involving pets outside Court. One of the benefits of negotiating a pet-agreement outside Court is that it allows more scope for a shared-care arrangement of the pet. The other benefit of course, is that the legal cost involved in filing Court proceedings with respect to possession of pets would far outweigh the cost of a new dog.

If you have concerns about the care of your pet in a relationship or post-separation, please do not hesitate to contact one of our friendly family lawyers at Nevett Ford on 03 9614 7111 or via email melbourne@nevettford.com.au.