Pets are a person's best friend, but what happens to your pet when you separate from your former partner or spouse?

This issue was considered in the case of Downey & Beale [2017] FCCA 316.

In this case, the court had to determine which party owned a dog to decide whose care the pet should be in.

The husband purchased the dog for $300.00. However, the court found that payment of a fee, does not itself, determine ownership or determine the Order the court might make.

The wife asserted the dog was purchased after the parties had commenced dating, the dog lived with her and her parents, and was in her possession.

The wife contended she desired to adopt a puppy and when the parties went to look at the dog, the husband offered to pay for the dog in order to gift it as an early birthday present to the wife.

The wife claimed that she paid for all vaccinations, operations, food, and accessories for the dog as it had been living with her parents and her continuously since adoption.

The wife relied on documents relating to the dog's attendance upon vets that showed that she was listed as the owner of the dog.

There are obligations upon the owners of pets to register the ownership within six months of receiving any pet. In this case, the parties did not register the ownership of the dog within six months.

Registration of a pet may be considered by the court as a factor to determine ownership of a pet but may not always be conclusive.

Here, the parties had already been separated for nearly eight months before the dog was registered.

An owner of a pet is defined under NSW legislation as being the person who ordinarily keeps the animal, or the registered owner. On 4 November 2016, the registered owner was the husband. Prior to 4 November 2016, the wife ordinarily kept the dog.

The court ultimately found that the wife was the owner of the dog even though the husband purchased the dog and was listed as the registered owner from 4 November 2016.

It was found that the wife contributed to the dog's care directly and non-directly, financially, and non-financially. The wife was found to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the dog including attending to vet appointments.

The court may consider a variety of factors when determining ownership of a pet including who purchased the pet, who cared for the pet, who paid for the ongoing maintenance of the pet, and who the registered owner of the pet is.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.