As a nation, we all consider our pets as family members. Contrastingly, the law in England and Wales regards pets as ‘chattels’. Chattels are possessions such as the family car or household furniture. These examples are easily replaced and it therefore raises the question as to whether pets should be placed in the same category.
It follows that as a pet is considered a chattel, the Court will not consider what is in the best interests of the animal despite most owners treating their pets as their ‘children’. Surprisingly however, Alaska has become the first state in the USA to allow Judges to take into account the well-being of the animal in such cases.
In cases where children are involved, the Court will always consider the best interests of the children. If, in such cases, a dispute has arisen in relation to the custody of the pet, the Court will usually deem that it is in the best interests of the children for the family pet to remain with the children of the family.
Courts rarely decide who is to have custody of a pet as most Courts will refuse to make an order in these terms and will leave the matter to be decided by the parties. The Court are under no obligation to make an order in relation to who has custody of the pet.
Mediation is always the first port of call in any separation or divorce matter and we would therefore advise parties to attempt to agree who is to keep the pet. We have known parties to successfully agree ‘contact with the pet’ between themselves. Agreements have included looking after the pet whilst one party is away on holiday or at work and weekly ‘walkies’.
If you wish to discuss this further, please contact Lynn Gooch on 020 8502 3991 for more information.