“A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”, but who gets custody of the dog after a divorce?

We are a nation of pet lovers, but what happens to them if their human owners separate? Relationship breakdown is usually a stressful time for all parties involved. It can be made even more upsetting when considering what to do about custody of your pet after divorce.

It is not uncommon to think of a pet as one of the family and the thought of losing them, on top of the emotional turmoil of a breakup, can be overwhelming.

According to recent statistics, more than 60% of people in the UK own a pet. If 42% of marriages end in divorce, half of those breakups might include deciding who gets custody of a pet dog.

In law a pet is classed as property, a possession, and if there is a dispute about ownership, a court could decide on the matter of legal ownership on behalf of the parties. This could result in the return to, or retention of, a pet by its owner. A court will not, however, force a pet’s legal owner to set up a sharing agreement with a non-legal owner. Deciding factors that the court could take into account include who bought the pet, who is the main carer, whose name is registered on the pet’s microchip and insurance, and who pays the vet bills and similar.

Pets are often bought at great expense, especially if the pet in question is a pedigree or fashionable cross-breed. But with a beloved animal, the cost is not the only thing invested. If it’s a dog for example, invariably this will mean giving time and attention to training and exercising as well as feeding and loving it. Sometimes pets represent the absence of children or are introduced into an already large human family. We can get very sentimental about our four legged friends.

If you are separating, you and your partner may need to consider carefully who gets to keep the dog and if you have more than one pet, do you get one each? As with so many issues that arise in family law matters, there is rarely one answer and most solutions turn on the circumstances of the case and what pet you have.

If you have a dog, you could consider sharing custody. Consider what would work best with your respective work patterns and other family commitments. Is the dog a good traveller or is car-sickness a problem? Is where you now live suitable for having a pet to stay, or is one party now renting a property that has a no pet policy?

Dogs can be territorial, becoming attached to the home and surrounding area they are used to. Moving can be unsettling enough for adults and children, but we rarely think of the impact it might have on our canine friends. If one party is staying put in the family home that was once shared, the right solution might be for the dog to stay put too.

If you have more than one pet, the answer is not necessarily to have one each. The pets may have an attachment to each other as well as to their human family and separating pets can be very traumatic for them.

Court is not the place to resolve disputes over pets. It is an expensive remedy and it is usually the method of last resort when it comes to sorting out the division of other main assets such as the house, savings, pensions, and other investments. Alternatives to court proceedings can include mediation or the collaborative framework, assuming doing what you believe is the right thing for your beloved pet has not helped you reach a solution already.

Get in touch today to speak to a member of our Family team by calling 01483 887766 or start a live chat today.

*This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.



Sharon Powell

Partner, Head of Family

Sharon has over 20 years experience in all aspects of family law and in particular the financial aspects of high value divorces. Sharon is a...

Sharon Powell-Head of Family

Partner, Head of Family

Sharon Powell

Sharon has over 20 years experience in all aspects of family law and in particular the financial aspects of high value divorces. Sharon is a trained collaborative lawyer and she is particularly experienced in resolving medium to high net worth finances as well as children disputes including alienation.

She is a Resolution member and qualified in mediation and collaborative family law.

“A break up of a relationship is very sad for everyone concerned” says Sharon. “I believe that our role is to try and help both parties reach a solution which they are both happy with. When feelings are running high this can sometimes be difficult but I believe we can make a difference”.

Sharon is often thanked by her clients for her sympathetic and supportive approach through a traumatic time in their lives.

Her most memorable case was in a divorce where financial matters involving significant assets were resolved amicably yet parties persisted to argue about kitchen utensils!

Sharon qualified as a solicitor in 1986 and joined Hart Brown in 2007 becoming a partner a few months later.