With over half of the UK population owning a pet, it is no surprise that disagreements regarding pets are becoming increasingly common.

The most frequent instance of pet ownership being questioned is when a couple is separating or has already done so and there is a dispute over who will get the pet. The simple answer is that whoever is the owner of the pet, is the one who retains it post separation. However, circumstances may differ and no two ownership situations are the same.

How will pets be classified in law?

Pets are regarded as chattels in family law even though they are seen by most as an integral part of a family. A chattel is defined as a movable piece of personal property. This means that a pet is given a similar status to any other piece of personal property, such as a refrigerator or a bed. Therefore where there is not a pet-nup in place, it is proof of ownership that decides who keeps the pet.

What if our pet is owned jointly?

Where a pet is owned by both parties, the court may consider ordering that the pet is to stay in the family home, shall stay with children or, in certain circumstances that the fairest outcome is for the pet to be sold. However, if you and your partner enter into a pet-nup which states that on separation both parties would like time with the family pet, this can be arranged.

What amounts to ‘ownership’?

There is no one single piece of evidence that conclusively proves who owns a pet. The court will consider a variety of information when determining pet ownership.

This includes:

· Was the pet bought prior to the relationship or during the course of the relationship (and if the latter, were you living together at the time)

· Who bought the pet

· Who is registered on the microchip database (if applicable) and whose name is recorded at the vet’s

· Who is registered on the insurance certificate

· Who pays the day to day expenses for the pet

· Was the pet bought as a gift

What about cohabiting couples?

Whilst cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples, they can secure their assets on separation by entering into a cohabitation agreement, in which your pet could be included.

If your relationship has broken down and there is a pet involved, or you are considering welcoming a pet into your relationship then our specialist family law team can assist you. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require our assistance.