Pet custody in divorce: who keeps the animals during separation?

Following on from our article on including pets in a will, we now take a look at the often-contentious issue of pet custody in divorce.

Dog and cat playing for Animal Friendly Life article on pet custody in divorce

Estimated reading time: 1 minute

Separation is a challenging time, not just for couples but also for family members, including beloved pets.

In Australia, pets are increasingly seen as family members, but in the eyes of the law, they’re still considered property. Which makes their post-separation care and custody a significant issue that can cause additional stress and worry for individuals going through a separation.

Here’s a guide to help you navigate pet custody after a breakup.

In Australia, pets are legally considered property. And while some states are beginning to consider the pet’s well-being as part of divorce proceedings, ultimately, they are treated similarly to other assets, such as furniture or vehicles.

This means that, technically, courts view pets as divisible property. However, the emotional bond between pets and their owners complicates this simplistic legal view, prompting some courts to consider the pet’s best interests.

To avoid the emotional and financial strain of court proceedings, it’s often best to reach an agreement out of court. But while many couples are able to resolve pet custody arrangements away from the court, some aren’t able to, and that’s when seeking legal advice is crucial.

A lawyer can help you understand your rights, draft agreements, and represent you in court if necessary. They can also guide you through state-specific laws that may impact the outcome of your case.

While pet custody disputes can be emotionally draining, having the proper legal knowledge and understanding of the landscape will help make the process as painless as possible. For everyone involved.

Brown Cavoodle sitting on pet for Australia's most popular dog breed
Separation and pet custody disputes can cause a lot of stress to animals (image supplied)

When a court is asked to decide on pet custody, several factors are typically considered:

  1. Primary caregiver: The court may look at who has been the primary caregiver. This includes who feeds, walks, and takes the pet to the vet.
  2. Living arrangements: The suitability of each party’s living situation is important. A safe and spacious environment is ideal for a pet’s well-being.
  3. Financial stability: The ability to financially support the pet’s needs, such as food, medical care, and other expenses, can influence the court’s decision.
  4. Children’s well-being: If children are involved, the court may consider the impact of the pet’s custody on them, especially if they have a strong bond with the pet.

    While it’s natural to focus on personal desires during a dispute, prioritising the pet’s well-being is crucial.

    The process itself of the separation is likely to cause your pet stress and sadness, so the last thing you want to do is add further pain to the process for them.

    So, whether you are able to reach an agreement yourselves or you need the help of a court to resolve your pet custody dispute, it’s important your pet remains in a consistent routine throughout.

    These three factors should remain consistent for your pet, and be your priority for them, throughout the divorce process.

    • Routine: Maintaining a consistent routine can help reduce stress for the pet during this transitional period.
    • Health: Ensure that the pet continues to receive regular veterinary care and proper nutrition.
    • Emotional needs: Pets can sense changes in their environment. Providing them with love and attention can help them adjust.

    If you or someone you know is going through a pet custody, we hope this article can offer some assistance to you.

    For more legal information about pet custody head to the Australian Family Lawyers website.