Who gets the dog, cat, or other family pet in a divorce is a common worry for separating couples. Last week a journalist from Dog Training Weekly asked for our advice on ownership and ‘pet-nups’ that I wanted to share with you.
Most of their readers compete in dog sports regulated by the Kennel Club (KC). To compete, a dog must be registered on either the KC Breed Register or the KC Activities Register. Both of those registers require the owner of the dog to be recorded.
In the case of pet dogs that don’t compete, the breeder is usually registered as the owner. The first thing a buyer should do is complete the transfer form recording that they own the dog.
So in those instances where there is a clearly defined owner, would the court take that into consideration? What about a dog registered in joint names? Would a pet-nup be useful?
What does the law says about pets?
Pets are classed as property under UK law. Once a dog is registered under the KC Breed Register or the KC Activities Register, it would technically be classed as the personal property of the person to whom they are registered.
In the cases where pet ownership is registered to one person and transferred, this would be subject to contract law.
What is a contract?
A contract is a legally binding agreement between at least two parties. Five elements must be satisfied to make a legally binding contract:
- Offer: One party makes an offer to sell a dog
- Acceptance: The other party accepts the offer to buy the dog
- Consideration: Each party provides consideration to the other. In this case, the buyer promises to buy the dog for a certain price, and the seller promises to give up ownership of the dog.
- Intention to be legally bound: Both parties have the intention to be legally bound by the agreement (sell the dog, buy the dog)
- The parties have contractual capacity: The parties are legal entities recognised by law, such as a company or an individual at least 18 years of age.
Once those elements exist, you have a legally binding contract.
If a binding contract was in place under contract law for personal property (in this case, a dog). This would certainly be considered by a judge when making any judgement.
Should I get a pet-nup for my dog?
The situation is more complicated when separating or divorcing when there are joint owners of a pet, and they decide to split up or get a divorce. Here, it might be helpful to have a prior agreement, such as a pet-nup’. The pet-nup is an agreement that sets out who legally owns the dog and how the joint owners intend to share or transfer ownership if there is a breakdown in the relationship.
While a pet-nup is not legally binding, the court is likely to use it to assist in deciding what happens to the pet when you divorce which should save time and money.
A dispute between separating or divorcing owners could be taken to the Small Claims Court under Contract Law. Alternatively, a judge could decide in the Family Court as part of a divorce settlement. However, some judges are reluctant to make orders regarding pets.
What if we both want to keep our pet and divorce?
Prenups, postnups and pet-nups are rare, however, so what happens if a couple separates and both want their beloved pet?
A divorce only deals with the legal ending of the marriage or partnership. To separate finances and assets and get a financial clean break from each other, a couple needs what’s known as a consent order.
A consent order makes any financial agreement legally binding and gives each party a ‘clean break’, which prevents either party from trying to claim against the other in the future. Because the law defines a pet as property, so your dog could be included in the agreement.
If you can’t agree over your dog or any other asset, your only option is to go to court and ask a judge to decide. This takes many months, and the legal bill often costs tens of thousands of pounds.
But before that, a court would want you both to at least try mediation to see if you can reach an agreement. Mediation can work very well and is much more cost-effective than going to court. Once an agreement is made, we can draft your consent order and submit it to the court for approval. Once approved, your arrangement for your pet is set and cannot be disputed.
For more information about consent orders visit our page here, call 0204 530 8101 or book a free consultation with one of our friendly advisers.