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Family Law Blog

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A dog is not just for married life

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When dealing with the division of assets on divorce or separation, most people think of the houses, the car, the china and silverware. These are all tackled routinely and, whether simple or more complex, can often be dealt with in a logical manner.

However, there are other items which are treated as matrimonial assets by UK courts but can provoke a much more emotional debate. Increasingly, pets are also the subject of heated exchanges and long debates over who they live with.

Family lawyers are used to dealing with disputes in respect of children but many are now finding themselves involved in disputes over the much-loved dog, horse or even budgerigar. Pet owners view their animals as members of the family and issues such as where an animal is to reside or who has visiting rights to it is something family lawyers are being asked to consider ever more frequently. Courts are also now being asked to rule on some cases where “custody” is disputed.

It is a sore point for many UK pet owners to learn that our legal system takes a literal approach to dealing with animals. Unlike the United States, the rule is applied that an animal is considered an asset the same as any matrimonial possessions. However, unlike the family car or computer, things often become much more complicated because with animals it can get more emotional.

Whilst there are many cases involving animals that end up in the court arena, thankfully most cases settle long before it reaches a stage where the court has to make an ultimate decision.

The best approach remains to try and negotiate an agreement as, unless the law changes, the best interest of the pet will not be considered and the pet will continue to be treated as the parties’ personal property.

Judith Buckland
Divorce Solicitor

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