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Getting a divorce or facing separation, even if somewhat amicable, can involve many aspects that place a lot of emotional strain on all parties involved. Some of the most painful decisions include those relating to children if a couple has them. Still, the question of pet arrangements and ownership can also be highly stressful if the issue arises.

The UK is well known as a nation of pet lovers. According to a recent survey by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, over 3 million UK households acquired a pet since the start of the Covid 19 Pandemic, bringing the total of pet-owning homes in this country to over 17million. So, what happens to pets if their owners split up?

Whilst there are clear guidelines on how a family court will consider the welfare of children regarding matters such as finances, access and child arrangements, UK law does not, however, make provision for how a Court will decide who can keep the family pet. Below we look at some frequently asked questions regarding pets and divorce.


How is pet ownership legally decided?

Whilst pet owners may not consider their beloved animals as ‘property’, under UK law, courts will treat pets in the same way as household contents or personal property after divorce. Therefore, couples will be expected to try and reach a mutual decision on custody of their pets or ask the court to determine if this is not possible. Aspects that are taken into consideration when deciding on legal ownership include:

  • Proof of ownership / who bought the animal
  • Who the key provider is
  • Who paid for various expenses, such as food and vet bills
  • The name on any tags or microchips
  • Who is registered with the vet


Who will get custody of a family pet in a divorce? 

Typically, if couples cannot agree to a mutual agreement about pet custody, the English court will first consider ownership and the financial aspects mentioned above. However, courts will also consider the most suitable home for the pet moving forward, especially if there are differences in living arrangements or financial positions.

The court may also consider joint custody, such as in the recent high-profile case of Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong regarding their pet dog Hurley. The court granted shared custody on a week-by-week basis. Joint pet custody agreements can be agreed upon between parties amicably or with a court order. However, Courts will always place priority on children and property matters.


What is a pet nuptial agreement? 

A Pet Nuptial Agreement or ‘Pet-Nup’ is a document that sets out a couple’s agreement for the arrangements for their pet if they were to separate. A Pet-Nup can deal with the right of ownership, access rights and financial arrangements for the pet’s ongoing care. Alternatively, you can include a clause concerning a pet in a standard pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement. Cohabitation Agreements can include a pet clause for unmarried couples who live together. Although a ‘pet-nup’, like a pre-nup, is not automatically legally binding, it holds weight if a dispute arises following separation, making pet custody after divorce more straightforward.


Legal advice regarding divorce and separation  

Regardless of your situation, seeking legal advice early on will ensure you fully understand your legal rights regarding pet ownership or any aspects of a divorce or separation before you make any decisions or enter a dispute.


Divorce Solicitors in Kingston

At Rose & Rose, our experienced solicitors are specialists in all areas of family law, and we can assist with divorcefinancial settlement, and separation agreements. We can also help with Pre-Nuptial Agreements, information regarding Pet-Nups, or Cohabitation Agreements.

Our skilled and dedicated family lawyers can guide you through each step of the divorce process and work to ensure you get the best possible outcome.

For further advice on divorce and other aspects of family law, please get in touch with our Family Law team today by calling 0208 974 7490 or email info@roselegal.co.uk.


This blog post is not intended to be taken as advice or acted upon. If you are seeking legal advice, please get in touch with our team of solicitors.

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