Divorce is possibly one of the most difficult things that individuals have to go through.  The immense disruption caused by such issues as the separation of assets and the custody of any children of the marriage can be one of the most difficult things to overcome.  The question of children and where they should be domiciled is a major hurdle which is quite understandable.

Increasingly the question of pets and who should get custody seems to be a major problem.   Frequently overlooked in a divorce is who will take over the on-going care of the much-loved dogs or other pets owned by the couple. Often the couple becomes entrenched at opposite ends of an issue and refuses to compromise in any way shape or form.  It is not uncommon for the issue in question to become so contentious that there appears to be no possible way to break the stalemate other than to revert to the courts.

The high profile acrimonious divorce of the media personality Ant McPartlin and his wife Lisa Armstrong is subject to a further court battle, this time with regard to their pet dog, Hurley.  The question of custody of the dog seems to be a key issue as both parties are very attached to the pet.  Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong’s on-going battle over Hurley is not the only celebrity dogfight.  Maria Carey and her former husband Nick Cannon had a prenuptial agreement and managed to separate their assets and agree on how the children were cared for but could not agree on the custody of their eight dogs, that had been omitted from the prenuptial agreement and had to go to court for a decision.  Liam and Nicole Gallagher also fell out over the custody of their two dogs which resulted in Liam losing.  Similarly, Ashley Cole lost out as far as the dogs were concerned when he argued with Cheryl for the custody of their two dogs.

In the event of a divorce, pets are treated as chattels, meaning that pets are part of the property of the couple.  The court can divide the assets of a couple in a divorce and direct to which person certain items of their joint property should go but it cannot grant access to a pet for one party when the other party has custody of an animal.

If there is a dispute over custody the court will have to decide who owns the pet or who is the best position to look after the pet.   The couple can each put their case as to why they think that they should have custody of the pet and will have to produce evidence to support their argument.  The evidence could take the form of an invoice demonstrating who bought the dog, or whose name is registered with the Kennel Club or on a contract with a rescue shelter?  If the dog has been micro-chipped whose name is on the microchip database and recorded at the vet’s practice and on the insurance certificate?   Who actually has the care of the pet will also be taken into account, as well as who is in the best position to look after the dog.  It is unlikely that custody will be given to a person who is out at work all day long and the dog is to be left alone in the house.  However, the court does not have a duty to consider the welfare of the pet.

The emotive issue of where and with whom the pet should live is more frequent than most people realise.  The family lawyers at Giambrone consider that in such cases the value of a prenuptial agreement becomes apparent.  Whilst not completely legally enforceable the give guidance to the court as to how the couple were thinking during a time when they were not at war with each other.  Clearly, other considerations come into the equation over time, such as will the children of the family be extremely distressed if their adored pet does not live with them?  Does the workload and travel schedule of the actual owner allow for proper care of a pet?  Any legal dispute carries a cost and thought should be given as to whether a reasonable solution can be arrived at without resorting to legal action.

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.