Pets are very often more than just pets, they are members of our families whom we love and cherish just as we would any other family member.

What happens if a couple with a cherished pet separates?  Who gets “custody” and can “visitation rights” be organised for the “non-custodial” owner?

The Family Law Act 1975 does not make any specific provision for pets and it may pain some people to learn that the Family Courts do not treat pets any differently than they do ordinary property.  Judges will be reluctant if not loathed to enter into any debate about who gets to keep the beloved pet and they certainly won’t entertain arguments about “visitation rights”.

If you are contemplating separating and you have a beloved pet then I suggest that you ensure that at the time of separation you do what is practicable and necessary to ensure that your pet remains in your possession.  When it comes to pets, the old saying “possession is nine tenths of the law” rings true as invariably the person that retains ownership of the family pet at separation, retains it in the longer term.

If you find yourself in the unenviable position of being the party separated from your beloved pet, then I don’t advise that you go and retrieve it without agreement of the other party because you may be committing an offence of theft and or trespass. 

If the pet is registered under your name with the local Council then you should ensure that that fact is recognised and emphasise that at the time of separation when the issue of where your pet will go.  If you are the registered owner and you find yourself separated from your pet, then this fact may be used to recover it.

Whilst the Family Courts will not likely entertain any argument over “custody” and “visitation rights” of pets, this does not mean that two separating or separated parties can’t work out an arrangement amongst themselves that suits both of them. 

If there are also children, it may practical that the pet travels with the children between homes.  If there are no children, then such arrangements will usually only work if the parties maintain a civil relationship with each other after separation.

At AK Family Law we can help you negotiate an arrangement with your former partner when so many other lawyers would otherwise brush the issue under the carpet.

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