Many people consider their pets to be members of the family, so it can be difficult to decide who gets to keep them when a couple separates. In Australia, there is no specific legislation that determines pet custody cases, so the decision of who gets to keep the pet is often based on a number of factors, including who purchased the pet, who cares for the pet, and who the pet is bonded to.
How does the law view my pets if I separate?
In Australia, pets and livestock are legally considered property, not living beings. This means that the Courts will treat them like any other piece of property when deciding who gets to keep them. This can be tough if you have a strong emotional attachment to your pets.
What should I consider when planning pet custody?
- Who purchased the pet? If one person purchased the pet, they may have a stronger claim to keep the pet. However, if the pet was purchased jointly, then both parties may have a claim to the pet.
- Who the pet is bonded to? The pet’s own preferences may also be taken into account. If the pet is clearly bonded to one person, then that person may be more likely to be awarded custody of the pet.
- Who cares for the pet? The person who cares for the pet on a day-to-day basis may also have a stronger claim to keep the pet. This is because the pet is likely to be more bonded to that person.
- Who is the pet registered to, and who has the insurance in their name? These factors don’t determine ownership, but they need to be considered. Makes sure you change registration and insurance if required.
- The pet’s needs and welfare The pet’s needs and welfare are also important factors to consider. The court will want to ensure that the pet is placed in a home where its needs will be met.
- Do you have children who would benefit from time with the pet? Children are often very attached to family pets and can find comfort in having the pet around when they are going through family separation.
- What are the long-term implications? Shared care of a pet means you have ongoing contact with your former partner. You may need to decide if this arrangement will impact your future wellbeing.
How do we reach agreement about pet custody?
Negotiate with your former spouse
The ideal starting point is to engage in direct negotiations with your former spouse. They possess valuable knowledge about the pet’s needs and each family member’s emotional connection. Recent judicial arrangements have seen the pet remaining with the children and alternating between residences, mirroring the children’s schedules.
You’ll find an example of a pet owner’s plan at the bottom of the blog.
If direct negotiations fail, mediation can be a viable option to discuss and establish the living arrangements for your pet. While any agreement reached during mediation is not legally enforceable, it serves as a reflection of your intentions.
Seek consent orders or prepare a binding financial agreement
In cases where negotiation or mediation doesn’t help, or if you want a legally enforceable arrangement, you can seek assistance from a family lawyer and pursue consent orders or prepare a binding financial agreement. These legal measures allow you to decide on pet ownership with your other property matters.
Do I need legal advice about my pets?
The decision of who gets to keep the pet after a separation is a complex one. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and the decision will vary depending on the individual circumstances. If you’re not sure if your situation falls under family law in Australia, you should speak to a lawyer to discuss your options. If you’re in a dispute over pet ownership with your former partner and need some help reaching an agreement about dividing your property, a mediator could be helpful.
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The information in our resources is general only. Consider getting in touch with a professional adviser if you need legal, financial or well-being support.