Should your relationship with your pet be Cur-tail-ed by separation? Our pets are important to us and they are often regarded as another member of the family. A question we are hearing more from many separating couples is: What happens to our pets when we split up?
Although it may not be an issue at the top of everyone’s lists when considering separation, the issue of who gets to keep the family pet can be the most contentious issue.
Who owns the family pet?
In terms of how the law approaches ownership of a family pet, as a general rule, the pet is deemed to belong to the registered owner of the pet. If the pet is not registered, who paid for the pet, and indeed whose funds were used for the purchase, may be taken into consideration. This can be very difficult, especially where joint funds were used, or no one can recall who made the payment.
This definement of ownership also fails to take into account who has bonded with the pet, cared for it and spent time and funds on its care and comfort. A transfer of ownership of the pet could be sought from the court, but whether a judge or sheriff would be willing entertain such a dispute is uncertain. The question of whether a dispute about a pet should be raised with the courts is a difficult and nuanced issue.
Scots Law offers rather blunt solutions to an often emotional issue. We would, therefore, encourage parties to attempt to be practical and look to find other solutions, outwith the strict application of the law. If they cannot reach an agreement between themselves, parties have the option to mediate the issue or seek assistance from their solicitor to resolve matters pragmatically. If an agreement can be reached in terms of the care arrangements for the family pet, this can be added to any separation or minute of agreement. You have freedom of contract in Scotland, unlike in England and Wales, and have the option to be more creative about how you structure any provisions in relation to the family pet. We would encourage parties to consider the details of the day to care of a pet, costs of food, medication, dog walking, grooming, regular vet visits etc. should all be taken into account.
What if we’re not married yet?
Alternatively, if a couple are considering getting married and have a family pet they could make provisions now for the care, costs and future residence of that pet in a pre-nuptial agreement.
If you have any questions about how to plan for, or untangle, a dispute about a family pet, please contact a member of a Family Law Team who would be happy to help.
Roisin Kerr, Solicitor: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0131 222 2939