Should being separated from your pet hinder your bond with them? We value our dogs and frequently think of them as additional family members. What happens to our pets when we split up?

Who gets to keep the family pet can be the most difficult topic, even though it may not be at the top of everyone’s lists when considering separation.

Who has the ownership and the family pet custody?

The pet is typically considered to belong to the registered owner of the pet when it comes to how the law views pet ownership. If the animal is not registered, it may be taken into account who purchased it and even whose money was used. When joint funds were utilised or nobody can remember who made the payment, this can be quite challenging.

This definition of ownership also ignores the person(s) who formed a bond with the animal, gave it love and attention, and spent money and time providing for its comfort. The court may be asked to transfer ownership of the animal, but it’s unclear if a judge or sheriff would be open to hearing such a case. A complex and delicate topic is whether a dispute involving a pet should be brought before the courts.

Scots Law provides quite direct answers to a frequently emotive problem. Therefore, we would advise parties to try to be reasonable and look for alternatives to the rigorous interpretation of the law. Parties have the choice to arbitrate the dispute or enlist the aid of their attorney to help them reach a practical resolution if they are unable to come to an agreement between themselves. If a deal can be made on the care of the family pet, it can be added to any separation or agreement in writing. In Scotland, as opposed to England and Wales, you have contract freedom, giving you the opportunity to be more inventive when drafting any clauses relating to the family pet. We would advise parties to take into account the specifics of day-to-day pet care, including the costs of food, medicine, dog walking, grooming, routine veterinary visits, etc. 

What if the couple is not married yet?

Alternately, if a couple is thinking about getting married and has a family pet, they could establish provisions in a pre-nuptial agreement for the care, expenses, and future habitation of that pet right now.

Please get in touch with a member of the Family Law Team for assistance if you have any questions regarding how to prepare for or resolve a conflict involving a family pet. They would be pleased to assist you.

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