Future ownership of the family pet is sometimes a feature of divorce negotiations.  Pets are personal property – akin to cars and household contents – but much more precious.   This is why “custody” of a pet can form part of family financial proceedings and negotiations.

The expense of arguing about the ownership of animals may explain why there are few reported cases in England and Wales.  By contrast there are several reported cases in the US and Israel.  Switzerland has even amended the Civil Code to clarify this matter.

These 3 diverse systems draw on 2 strands; namely the property test and the “best interests” of the pet.

The property test involves analysing which claimant has a better title based on a fact finding exercise which could cover the following issues:-

  • Who paid for the pet?
  • The Certificate of Registration.
  • Who paid for animal insurance?
  • Who paid for the vet?
  • Who paid for food, litter and supplies?

The “best interest” test is one that family lawyers are familiar with as it is normally applied to disputes concerning children.  The following factors could be important:-

  • Living arrangements.  If one party keeps the family home then the pet will have familiar surroundings.
  • Where will the children live – presumably with the family dog?
  • With whom does the animal have a strong bond – who feeds the animal!
  • Which claimant is able to give more time to the animal?

Pets are family members and these disputes can be extremely bitter.