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18 September 2023

Pets and parting ways – what happens to the family pet when family relationships break down?

Authored by: Victoria Dickson
In this video, special counsel Leeann Murphy talks about what happens to the family pet upon separation and what factors are taken into consideration by the courts.

Video transcript

Hello. My name is Leeann Murphy. I’m part of the family law team at Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers.

My clients often seek advice about what is to happen to the family pets upon separation. This is often an intensely emotional negotiation.

A pet is property

A pet is property and is dealt with in a similar way to things like cars and houses. What this means is the court has an ability to make a declaration in relation to ownership, to make orders in relation to the transfer of a pet from one party to another, or for the sale of a pet.

Factors that may be relevant when it comes to making a decision

The question about who keeps a family pet is not a simple one and depends on a number of factors. It is possible for parties to reach an agreement about who will keep the pet. This is the most simple and effective way to resolve the issue. The factors that may be relevant to a decision in relation to this issue will be: Who purchased the pet? Who cares for the pet and who has the most suitable accommodation for the pet after separation?

Agreements made through a binding financial agreement

Once an agreement is made, it can be made binding through a binding financial agreement or a court order. It’s also possible for parties to reach an agreement to share the family pet. This may be appropriate where both parties want to stay in the pet’s life or where they think it’s appropriate for the pet to move between houses with children of the relationship. The parties will need to work out an agreement in relation to how the costs, care and welfare of the pet will be shared between the parties. An agreement of this type can also be made binding by a binding financial agreement or a consent order. If the parties fail to reach an agreement about who will retain the pet after separation, it will become necessary to ask the court to make orders in relation to this issue. This is a most complicated and costly option and will require the parties to go through a property settlement process. In Australia, pets are considered as property. When determining this matter the court will consider various factors such as who purchased the pet, the name in which the pet is registered, who has cared for the pet during the relationship and during the post separation period, and whether one or the other of the parties has a strong emotional bond with the pet. The court will also consider whether or not who keeps the pet is in line with what is just and equitable between the parties by way of property settlement.

I hope this information is helpful and if you have any questions about what happens to your pet upon separation, please contact us.

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This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please let us know.

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Leeann Murphy
Special Counsel

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