What Happens to the Family Pet on Divorce?
In the Scottish Legal News dated 9 October 2018 there was a short article entitled ‘And finally…dog eat dog’. Apparently recent legislation in California requires judges to consider an animal’s best interests in divorce proceedings. Assembly member, Bill Quirk, who introduced the bill said “As a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings”.
So what about in Scotland? What happens to the family pet on divorce? It may seem like a ridiculous question in the context of warring couples arguing over their children and perhaps to a lesser extent their money but the arrangements for the care of a family pet can sometimes be a contentious issue.
Unfortunately the laws regulating divorce provide little help in a dispute over a pet and aside from the question of whether the pet is considered to be matrimonial property or not, often the problems arise due to on-going practicalities after the separation.
In many cases one of the couple will be the obvious dog owner but:
- Dogs can be expensive to take care of. There is food, pet insurance, grooming, dog walking and the inevitable vet’s bills which can be a significant out-going when incomes now are stretched to fund two households rather than one.
- If the family home is sold then this can also have repercussions where there is a pet. A lot of private landlords simply refuse to accept pets and even if a landlord does agree, if one party is moving out of the family home with a garden where the dog has been able to exercise freely into a flat, this just may not be suitable.
- Given the potential restriction on income after separation a return to work, or a return to full time hours as opposed to part time hours for a separated spouse may be a necessity and the amount of time available to exercise a dog could be severely limited.
- Where will the pet stay? The pet may have formed bonds with all the family members. The pet may stay in the family home with the children but this may not be easy. Who can realistically take a dog for a last evening walk with young children sleeping in the house?
What I would say is that couples disputing who should have the family pet should be very cautious about commencing litigation over the matter. It is highly likely that you may face a Sheriff who would believe that you were wasting the Court’s valuable time and I may be inclined to agree. Best try to resolve matters through mediation which would be cheaper.
It is normal that couples when splitting up enter into separation agreements and it might be useful at this stage to include contractual arrangements regarding the care of a pet. It almost sounds frivolous to make such conditions part of a life changing separation agreement but this could save a small fortune in legal fees and give due consideration to the impact the separation would have on the well-being of the dog.