At TLT, we have recently seen an increase in cases involving disputes regarding family pets upon the breakdown of a relationship.
This is a really emotive issue as pets are an important part of family life and the decision about what should happen to them if circumstances change can be really difficult.
Thinking clearly, logically and rationally can be challenging enough when coming to terms with a separation, and having to make a decision about a much-loved pet's care, or the thought of losing a close companion, can be extremely daunting.
You may want to think about entering into a "pet nup" when your pet first joins your family. This formal agreement would set out your intentions about what happens if your relationship breaks down, including:
• Who has the right of ownership of a pet;
• Who the pet will live with if the relationship does break down; and
• Whether the pet will spend time with the other person if you separate.
To avoid any difficulties when you separate, you may want to think carefully about whose name and details are given if your pet is microchipped, and who is registered as the main contact at the veterinary practice.
While you may have no intention of separating and will hopefully go on to have a happy, healthy relationship, separation is sadly becoming increasingly common in today's society and so having these difficult conversations now, as artificial as they may seem, can help to avoid a lot of heartache (and indeed money) in the future, especially when there can be little to no legal recourse.
The court can make a decision about who should be the legal owner of a pet if there is a dispute upon separation, but will not get involved in decisions about the sharing of care or the other person spending time with the pet.
With this in mind, if facing a separation without having had these discussions in advance, the best way forward is to be sensible and think about what will work best for your pet. Who is around most often to care for your pet? What works best logistically? Try and have these conversations with your ex yourself, and if this proves difficult, think about attending mediation, where a neutral, trained third party will help you to reach a decision together.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at April 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.