Pet custody issues during divorce

As a nation of animal lovers our pets are much loved members of the family, so during divorce the issue of pet custody can be hugely emotional and upsetting. In some ways the law is extremely straight forward regarding family pets in that they are considered as chattel, an item of personal property, in the same way that jewellery, artworks and furniture are considered.

In this sense, the courts define the legal owner of the pet as the person who paid for the animal, who cares for the animal, who pays the vet’s bills and the person who is the registered owner. However, if there is clear evidence that the pet was gifted to another member of the family, the court can order that ownership rights are transferred to that person.

Ideally, families would reach as amicable an agreement as possible between themselves regarding where the pet lives, and any shared custody or maintenance arrangements. Mediation can help those unable to agree to find a way of resolving the issue before resorting to court where a judge will make the final decision on the pet’s destiny. When this happens the court will usually award the pet to the person who paid for it.

If the pets are valuable pedigree dogs or horses, a value will be attributed to them which will be considered as a matrimonial asset. This is particularly pertinent when the animal can produce an income from breeding, showing, or competing. Another issue is maintenance costs, again this is especially relevant if the animal needs ongoing medical attention or requires specific facilities, such as stabling and paddocks. These fall under the category of income and capital needs.


Given the emotional trauma losing a pet can cause, it might be sensible to consider the issue of pet ownership in the event of future relationship breakdown. As specialist family lawyers, we have a wealth of experience and expertise in resolving all issues arising from divorce and separation, including financial, children and pet arrangements. To help you navigate the legal landscape relevant to your specific circumstances, we offer a no obligation 60-minute initial consultation for £100 (incl. VAT). This will give you the opportunity to receive legal advice relevant to your personal situation.

To book a consultation, please call us on 01444 472700, email or complete the form below.

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