Furry friends: Navigating pet custody in divorce

21 February 2024 Family Law Rebecca Coltart

When a couple separates, emotions run high as assets are divided, and a topic that often tugs at the heartstrings is the custody of beloved pets. As couples navigate the complexities of divorce, the question of who gets the family dog has become a pivotal issue recently. It was well publicised when Ant McPartlin found himself in court with his ex over the custody of their adorable Labrador, shining a spotlight on the complexities of pet ownership in divorce proceedings.

Contrary to popular belief, in Scotland, our loyal canine companions are not considered matrimonial property but fall under the category of corporeal moveable property, making the process of establishing ownership more intricate.

In recent years, family law has started recognising the unique bond between humans and their four-legged friends and pets are now acknowledged for the integral role they play in families. However, determining ownership when it comes to pets is not as straightforward as it may seem. Unlike assets such as homes or cars, our furry friends are sentient beings with emotional attachments to both partners. The law treats pets as possessions, and the challenge arises when divorcing couples need to decide who will provide a loving home for their beloved dog.

To determine ownership of the family dog, couples may need to provide evidence of purchase, adoption, or other factors that establish a clear link between one party and the pet. Documentation such as veterinary records, registration papers, or even social media posts showcasing possession and meeting the costs of the dog is significant in the legal process.

In an ideal scenario, couples would address the issue of pet custody before it becomes a point of contention with the costs of litigating over ‘who gets the dog’ far outweighing the value of the beloved furry friend! Creating a pet care agreement that outlines responsibilities, visitation rights, and financial contributions can help couples navigate this challenging aspect of divorce with greater ease.

While the legal system may currently view pets as corporeal moveable property rather than matrimonial property, the unique bond between humans and their animals necessitates a compassionate and nuanced approach, and shared custody is often the way forward. The most important factor for a party to consider is who is in a position to care properly for the animal and if agreement cannot be reached through negotiation, it may be that parties consider other options to resolve the dispute such as mediation.

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