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Dave & I Are Leaving

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

In this case Dave is not the third party in a relationship triangle but the family pet.

During the pandemic in 2020, 3.2 million households acquired a pet, bringing the total number of pet-owning homes to 17 million in the UK. But what happens when there is a family breakdown and a couple decides to go their separate ways? What happens to the family pet?

The law in England and Wales is clear, albeit rather unemotional. The law identifies a pet as an item of personal property, similar to that of an item of furniture and other household items.

The court’s somewhat unmoveable position is that a pet’s ownership lies with the ‘legal owner’ of the pet. This is the person who purchased the pet (unless the pet was subsequently exchanged as a gift) and the person who funds the pet’s maintenance (for example the costs of insurance, vet bills and food).

Unfortunately, neither the time a person spends looking after a pet nor the pet’s welfare is usually considered when determining a pet’s ownership, often resulting in an unjust outcome.

How can you ensure your pet is legally yours?

When purchasing a new pet, we recommend that married couples enter a post-nuptial agreement, and those who are not married enter a cohabitation agreement, with provisions determining the ownership of the pet. Those provisions could address who is financially responsible for the pet, who will care for the pet and where the pet will live.

We are divorcing and don’t have a pre-existing agreement. How can we decide who gets the pet?

As pet owners ourselves we understand the important role that our pets play in family units and so our first recommendation is mediation in the hope that an agreement can be reached amicably, and the terms of that agreement recorded in a legally binding document.

Mediation was unsuccessful. What next?

If a couple cannot decide who should take ownership of a pet during a divorce, the issue may be considered as part of the overall financial settlement between the parties. Provisions for the costs and upkeep of a pet can also be made.  However, there is some reluctance by the courts to make an order regarding family pets, believing that financial and children arrangements are ultimately more important.

We have acted for clients in cases where the family were unable to decide who the pet should reside with. If you need legal assistance in case such as these please call 0800 088 6004.


Jessica Leech


Jessica Leech


Jessica is a Solicitor with the Family Team in our Northampton office.