Who keeps the cat? Pets on divorce

Imogen Powell is a Solicitor with Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors which is a leading Family Law Solicitors Practice in the South West, with offices in Exeter, Taunton, Honiton and Weston-Super-Mare and consulting rooms in Yeovil and Bridgwater. Here Imogen discusses disagreements over who will keep the family pet after a divorce.

Pets on divorce

There is a lot to think about when couples get divorced. Who will start off the paperwork? What will happen to your home? Where will the children live? How will the matrimonial finances be divided? Often, in addition to these “larger” questions, couples will also need to consider what happens to their family pet(s) i.e. who gets to keep the cat?

What factors will the courts consider?

Under the law of England and Wales, pets are seen as “property”, much like other household items or amenities such as your car or your sofa. Unlike with children, there is no such thing as “custody” or “residence” of a pet, and so when deciding on who will get to keep Mr Fluffy, the court will often look at the following factors:

  • Who paid for the animal?
  • Whose name is the animal registered in?
  • Who cares for the animal?
  • How much does it cost to maintain the animal and can that spouse afford this after the matrimonial finances have been divided?
  • How much is the animal worth? Does it produce any income?

What can I do to avoid a dispute?

If agreement cannot be reached between them, couples can end up spending thousands of pounds in legal fees, fighting over their beloved pets.

One only has to look at more “high profile” cases, such as that of Ant McPartlin and his wife Lisa Armstrong, who are allegedly battling over who keeps Hurley, their chocolate Labrador, to see how easily costs can mount.

Therefore, if you are in any doubt about the future care of your pets or wish to avoid expensive arguments in the future, it may be worth considering getting a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up if you intend to marry, or a post-nuptial agreement if you are already married.

What if I am not married but am co-habiting with my partner?

If you are not married and are in a relationship, then the laws surrounding divorce and financial settlement will not apply. There is no such thing as a “common law marriage” and so couples fighting over pets will usually have to resort to making an application in the civil courts.

How can I avoid a dispute in the future?

As with married couples, if you wish to avoid future disputes then you should consider having a cohabitation agreement drafted up, which will deal with who owns what at the time the agreement is drafted, what financial arrangements you wish to make whilst you are living together and what will happen to your finances and assets on the event the relationship breaks down.

Where the agreement is properly drafted, the terms are reasonable and each party has received independent legal advice, a court is more likely to uphold the terms of the agreement in the event of a dispute.

If you require any assistance or further information in relation to a matrimonial dispute, or the drafting of pre-nuptial, post-nuptial or cohabitation agreement then please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our team, who will be happy to help you.