Pet Custody

At Blanchards Law, we are all animal lovers so we understand how heart-breaking losing a beloved pet can be.  We regularly come across pet custody disputes when relationships break down. These are usually about a family dog or cat, but sometimes it involves more exotic animals such as tortoises!

Can we help you? Please call us on 0333 344 6302 or contact us through our enquiry form. All initial enquiries are free and without obligation.Please note that we only deal with pets in the context of family relationships. We do not deal with breeders, vets, rescue centres, petlog or anything else which is not a family matter.

“I would like to thank the team at Blanchards for securing the swift return of my dog Remy. They were professional and kept me in the loop, and couldn’t have done anything more to help me in my matter. Also thank you to Claudia for her investigative work to retrieve vital information to my case, writing a letter of claim and communicating between both parties.”
            – Wendy Ford
Pets Custody Law Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire

Who gets the dog?

UK law treats pets in the same way as inanimate objects such as cars or other personal items. What this means is pets, eg a dog, is regarded within the UK legal system as a ‘chattel’, meaning they are viewed as an item that is owned a bit like a car or an item of furniture.

However, in many relationships, both parties and also their children feel an incredible closeness and love for the family dog. This can result in drawn out pet custody battles over who gets to keep them.

At Blanchards Law, we fully appreciate that to its owner a dog is more likely to be regarded as a much-loved member of the family. However, it is important not to assume that this is how the court will view it. During a dog ownership dispute, a Court will determine who the owner is. The Court has powers to make orders, such as an order for the return of the dog. They can also order damages for wrongful retention of the dog.

How does the law treat pets in divorce or separation in the UK?

If you are getting divorced from your partner, the Court may be able to decide who will get to keep the family pet. For example, if you have a dog, the court may order transfer of ownership or pedigree paper the same way they would for land or any other property.

The court may also make provision for the costs of upkeep of the animal when calculating income needs of the party keeping the pet. This could include things such as kennel space and gardens for dogs, vet bills or even land for horses. This will be considered as part of the overall financial award in financial remedy proceedings.

UK law does not make any provision for how a court will decide who gets to keep the family pet. However the main factor which may contribute to their decision will be who devoted the most time to caring for the pet.

Some judges are reluctant to make an order regarding pets, and will not spend a lot of court time hearing evidence.  The judicial system views financial arrangements or child arrangements are much more pressing matters.

Pet Custody in Small Claims Court

It is possible to challenge pet custody in the Small Claims Court. If you are not married, a court could make the decision on strictly legal principles – the pet belongs to the person who paid for it. If you paid for the dog, you can evidence this to the court through receipts and invoices or any Kennel Club registration you may have.

In a situation where a Small Claims Court is involved, the District Judge has the power to determine who is the dog’s sole owner and they then may direct that this person has sole possession. However, a Court is not bound to require that the owner have possession of a dog as this is a discretionary remedy.

If the Court rules that the dog is jointly owned, the Court may order that:-

  • possession of the dog be shared
  • one party has the dog
  • that the disputing parties sell the dog and share the proceeds.

What determines ownership of a Dog?

There is no one single piece of evidence that conclusively proves who owns a dog. A Small Claims Court will consider a variety of information when determining pet ownership and a District Judge is entitled to give whatever weight to this evidence as they deem fit. These include written and oral evidence on:

  • Who bought the dog (including whose name is on the contract made with the rescue centre or breeder)
  • Whose name is registered with the Kennel Club
  • Who is registered on the microchip database
  • Whose name is recorded at the vet’s practice
  • Who is registered on the insurance certificate
  • Who usually takes care of the dog
  • Who pays the day to day expenses for the dog

Pets in Prenuptial Agreements

The easiest way to avoid any difficulty or contention is to pre-empt the problem. It is possible to enter into a co-habitation agreement (if you do not intend to marry) or a pre-nuptial agreement (if you are to marry). This agreement can set out any arrangements for care of the family pet, including who they belong to and who they will live with should the relationship come to an end.

Can we help you? Please call us on 0333 344 6302 or contact us through our enquiry form. All initial enquiries are free and without obligation.

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Stories & case studies to help you

Please read our blogs on our pet custody work and practice. Like you, many client have come to us because the blogs are informative and designed to help you understand what you can do to resolve your situation.

Contact us on 0333 344 6302 for a no-obligation call