The Rising Issue of ‘Who Gets the Pets’ During a Divorce


Pets & Divorce


The issues of making arrangements for pets during the divorce process is becoming more and more prevalent – is a major area of contention in a number of divorce cases. Although arrangements for finances and children are one of the most disputed aspects during a divorce – pets are becoming more and more prevalent as a source of contention.


What arrangements should be made for pets? How are decisions made for pets during the divorce process? This can be a very difficult subject due to the fact that one of the parties will have legally purchased the pet. Due to the fact that pets are deemed as property during a divorce – this means that arrangements may have to be made either with the pet going to their respective legal owner or another arrangement being agreed once the divorce has been finalised. This article will look at pets and divorce as well as how pets are currently discussed during a dispute. 


Considering Pet Ownership & Pet Welfare


When making decisions regarding children – decisions and court decisions will be made to ensure arrangements that are in the children’s’ best interests. However – pets are deemed as property of one of the spouses which means that they are treated differently to arrangements regarding children. This may also mean that the pet’s personal welfare is not necessarily taken into consideration and this is where confrontations often rise. Pets are a very important aspect in many people’s lives – therefore taking potential action to make arrangements for pets may be a viable way to make considerations for them.


Do ‘Pet-Nups’ Really Exist and are They Legally Binding?


Yes – these agreements do exist and the first legally binding ‘pet-nup’ was agreed in 2014. The court won’t decide or take action as they would with children as pets are legally property. They may, however, decide to arrange for the pet to be sold or for one spouse to purchase the pet off of the other. You can create a prenuptial agreement that has arrangements for pets in the event of a divorce or separation which can be made to become legally binding. 


This can either be agreed as terms of the agreement or a ‘pet-nup’ agreement can be drawn up which covers various aspects such as who looks after the pet, custody arrangements and how is responsible to pay vet and other costs relating to the pet in question. In some situations – child custody agreements are drawn to coincide with pet agreements as children are often very close to family pets.


Has This Always Been a Big Issue?


As laws have not changed in regards to pets during a divorce, the question remains ‘has this always been a large point of contention?’ Commentators feel that it is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, with the millennial generation seeming to show a lot more concern about who has ownership of pets after a divorce. In divorces where there are no children involved, pets can be seen to couples at a similar level with many being extremely attached to their pets. This means that in these cases – you can expect that arrangements for pets will be heated and potentially confrontational in these situations.


Making Arrangements for Pets During a Divorce


If you have not agreed on a prenuptial agreement that dictates the conditions of caring for a pet or pets then you will have to make arrangements similarly to making decisions for property. The most common pets that see disputes are cats and dogs followed by horses, birds and guinea pigs. 


Mediation may be a way of resolving issues regarding pets if it is possible to arrange a meeting. Mediation is not appropriate for everyone due to the fact that in certain cases it will be impossible or unsafe for two parties to meet. This could be due to the fact that one spouse is dangerous or that no agreements can be made due to serious acrimony. 


Should mediation be appropriate and a decision is reached – these decisions can be made legally binding by a solicitor. This can include decisions on the property so decisions regarding pets can be reached during this agreement. You may wish to decide who takes ownership of the pet or who provides for bills or pays for veterinary visits. Legally – the person that purchased the pet will own the pet however agreements can be made to sell the pet to another party if agreed. The court will not intervene unless it is causing a serious point of contention in the divorce. If they are required to intervene – it is likely that the sale of pet to a third party or to the other spouse will be recommended or actioned by the court.


Will the Law Ever Change?


Due to the fact that some are extremely attached to their pets – there have questions surrounding if pet custody laws should exist. This is largely due to concerns of the negligence of pets should they be given to someone who no longer wants to look after them. With children – their best interests are kept at the forefront of any decisions, therefore, animal charities such as Blue Cross are concerned that animal interests are not held to similar regard. As some pets are sent to shelters once a divorce takes place – there are also concerns that these animals suffer as a result – research has shown that separation anxiety is prevalent in cats and dogs.


It’s certainly easier to divide up possessions than it is to divide a beloved pet so this is why a change in the law could be possible. If a change was carried out – it would likely change the way that animals are viewed in terms of being regarded as property. Another change that could be made changes to how the welfare of a pet is viewed during the divorce process. If the welfare of the pet is considered – this could change the way in which difficult decisions are made regarding pets.


Final Thoughts



Legislation to cater to decisions regarding pets – could be difficult legislation to create and implement. Would all pets be treated in the same regard? This would be difficult to legislate towards as some pets may be held in different regards to others – would goldfish be held in the same regard as a cat for example.


There certainly seems to be room for improvement in terms of how pets are viewed during a divorce and how arrangements for them are agreed. It will be interesting to see if changes to divorce law are created in terms of making arrangements for pets so for now – it seems recommended to consider a ‘pet nup’ if you want to make clear arrangements regarding your beloved fluffy or scaly friend.


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