The Laws of England and Wales view pets as chattels (property). Therefore, although we Brits think of our pets as members of the family, a pet will not be treated in the same way as a child by the courts.
As a pet is considered a chattel, it is likely that the person who paid for the pet will be viewed as the legal owner. Other factors used to determine ownership include:
- The name on any contract with the breeder or rescue centre
- The name on any Kennel Club registration documents
- The name on the microchip database
- The owner’s name as recorded at the vets
- The name on the insurance certificate
- Who pays the day to day expenses for the pet (food, vets’ bills)
- Who usually takes care of the pet
If you are separating, it is sensible to come to an amicable agreement about your pets. If you are finding it difficult to decide on arrangements for your pet, mediation is likely to be the best forum in which to discuss the matter.
You should consider what is in the best interests of the pet, i.e. who can give it the time and care it needs. A dog will need some outside space and walks. A cat on the other hand, is more independent, but also more territorial and likely to be very attached to its home and surrounding area.
Recently, Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong’s bitter divorce included a reported “custody battle” over who would get to keep Hurley, their beloved Labrador. However, court is generally not the place to resolve disputes over pets as court proceedings are an expensive remedy and last resort. Whilst a court may rule on who gets to keep the pet (i.e. whose “chattel” it is), it does not have the power to order the legal owner to give access to the pet to the non-legal owner, and they will certainly not get involved in ordering financial support for it!
It appears that in McPartlin and Armstrong’s case, they agreed to share care of the dog. Whilst a shared care agreement might work for some couples, you should consider how this will work in practice. If you do not have any children, you should consider whether you really want to be tied to your ex-partner for the duration of the pet’s life. Other factors to consider include how well you are able to communicate with each other, and who is going to pay for large expenses such as vet bills and pet insurance.