Separating from a partner is an emotionally draining and stressful time for everybody, and that’s before you and your ex get down to the nitty gritty of dividing up assets. It’s one thing to decide who gets the TV, but, what happens to the dog you both love? Unless there is a pre nuptial agreement (or a ‘pet-nup’) that stipulates who the pet is to stay with, it can become a complicated matter.
With many couples considering their pets as children- affectionately referring to them as ‘fur babies’- deciding who keeps them in a separation is becoming an increasing issue. Despite how couples view their pets The Australian Family Law Act states that animals are property, no different to a TV or a car. However, unless the animal in question is of value, such as a racehorse or a breeding animal, Family Law Courts will not be happy to find a pet included in a property settlement. If you are intent on including a family pet in a Property Settlement Application, it is important to remember that one option open to the court is to order the pet to be sold rather than staying with one of the parties. So, before you go down this route, keep in mind that you both may lose the animal.
Essentially, couples must try to decide an outcome between themselves. One way to do this is to go through a list of simple questions, such as:
Who bought the pet?
Who is the pet registered to?
Who feeds and/or walks the pet?
Who will be in a position to give the pet the best life once separated?
If children are involved, it is also important to consider their emotional health when deciding who keeps the pet. For example, if the children are particularly attached to the family dog, it may be best for the dog to live where the children will spend most of their time.
Another solution that is becoming more popular is to create a ‘Pet Parenting Agreement’ which states who the pet lives with and how much time it gets to spend with the other party. If you and your ex can come to an arrangement, this is often the best resolution as each person will get allotted time with the pet.
In the event that neither party can come to an agreement, the only other option is to take the case to a Small Claims Court or a Tribunal. However, depending on the state, there is no guarantee that they will deal with it. Even after taking the case to a court there is no legally binding ‘custody’ of a pet.
It’s clear in western society that people view their pets as a family member, so it becomes difficult when they are reduced to a mere possession in a separation. Personal feelings aside, both parties should consider what is best for the pet and base their decision on who is able to give it the best life.