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You keep the house, but who gets the dog?

The Breakdown of a relationship is hard enough as it is and matters can often become acrimonious when attempting to negotiate what happens next, whether it is in relation to the distribution of assets, who remains in the matrimonial home or who the children will live with.  In addition to this we, as Matrimonial Solicitors, are increasing asked to advise on the issue of who gets to keep the family pet.

A recent article in The International Journal of Law, Policy and Family (Oxford Journals) written by Deborah Rook of Northumbria Law School addresses the move from the court’s dealing with pets as ‘personal property’ to recognising pets as a ‘living and sentient property’. Whilst the law has not changed in England and so the correct approach when dealing with pet disputes remains within property law in financial divorce proceedings, Ms Rook argues that it is becoming more common in the US that the courts are influenced by other factors including the emotional bonds that exist between pet and carers and the interest the pet has in avoiding physical harm, which may prevail over property law considerations.

It is clear that pets are often seen as family members and so it can be difficult for client’s to learn that in English courts they are considered ‘chattels’. Some pets, like horses or pedigree dogs, do have a significant financial value which will often be taken into account when considering a ‘fair’ financial outcome of a separation or divorce. However recent case law in England has also seen a slight shift in the Judge’s approach to pet disputes and a recent case the Judge refused to make an order that the dog should live with the wife as the husband had been the main carer.(RK v RK [2011] EWHC 3910 (Fam)).

So be warned… if you cannot reach an agreement about the living arrangements for your beloved pets, which are part of your family, then if the matter proceeds to court then they may be seen as just chattels by the Judge.

At Eric Robinson we can either offer legal advice to you if you are unfortunate enough to encounter this issue, or we can offer a mediation service where we would meet with you and your ex partner/spouse  in an attempt to settle the matter between you to keep matters as amicable as possible.  Call us on 023 8042 5024/01489 774853 for more information.