Pets are, for many, another member of the family. It is then understandable that when a couple separates, the arrangements for the pets can be a big issue. However, in Australia, there are no “child custody laws” applicable to pets after a separation. Pets and animals, under the Family Law Act, are treated as property similar to a car or a bicycle. So, Who gets the family pet?

Like many areas of the family law, if an agreement cannot be established between the parties, the judge has the overriding power to divide assets and transfer property to either party. Where pets may differ from traditional property is the relationship each party may have with the pet.

The court will take into consideration the attachment the pet may have to a particular spouse or the children. If the parental orders pertain that the children are to live with a particular person, the pets may also be granted to the same spouse if there is a strong relationship between the children and the pet. The primary reason for this is the ability to help maintain stability for the children and reduce disruptions.

Whilst most pets are domestic and do not have substantial monetary value. If the pet is a pedigree than the value is taken into account and distributed to the parties if the court has to decide ownership. It is always important that you try to keep an open dialogue with your spouse which will make it easier to discuss issues, particularly when it may concern pets.

If you wish to try and remain the owner of your pet and discussions with your spouse haven broken down, you should contact your family law solicitor. It may eb possible to negotiate an agreement that legally determines the ownership of your pets following separation. Failing all else, you may wish to initiate court proceedings to seek property orders that include your pet.

Understanding living arrangements of pets is confusing and can cause a lot of emotional distress. Whilst pets are considered property under the law, it can be difficult to identify with precision which of you is the legal owner.

If you are concerned about your pet following separation, and wondering who gets the family pet, contact BurkeMead for family law advice today.