To many couples, the family pet is almost as important as their children. To others, the family pet is the closest to a child that they have. To a few, they are tools to be used to gain benefit from their ex-partner. To the law, they are property.

Some countries have adopted procedures similar to those for parenting disputes when it comes to the issue of custody and care of a family pet, but not Australia. Whilst some animals, such as those for breeding, may constitute a business asset, companion animals (pets) are essentially personal property, like a television or an album of photographs.

In many aspects a pet is far closer to a person than it is property, pets have names, personalities, rights and can be greatly affected by separation. The unfortunate reality remains however, that for the purposes of separation they are dealt with as property by the Courts.

Pets Post-Separation

The Courts

As property, a pet is generally given to one party in a settlement. Like any other chattel, one party is expected to take possession, and the other party is expected to relinquish any interest they have in the property in return for compensation (in most instances). Alternatively should neither party want to retain the property, both parties will liquidate their interests in the property, and the profit retained will be divided in a manner the Court deems appropriate.

The Court system will not treat a family pet like a child. It will not award a parenting order for pets, and will not seek to enforce access. The Court is not required to identify the best interests of the pet.

In some circumstances, Courts have ordered that pets accompany a child during visits between parents’ houses. However the order is made with the best interests of the child in mind, and is not an order that represents any sort of shared care arrangement in regards to the pet.

Best Practice

Parties that want a shared care arrangement for family pets may do so by agreement. Such an agreement will often be drafted in a similar manner as a parenting agreement, with arrangements made for custody and care. Parties may also wish to name particular vets to use, training schools to attend and even agree to use a certain type of pet food.

Legal Advice

Should you require any advice in regards to any aspect of family law, you can contact Best Wilson Buckley Toowoomba on (07) 4639 0000 or Best Wilson Buckley Brisbane on (07) 3210 0281.