In 2016 there were 24 million pets in Australia. In fact, last year 62% of Aussie households had at least one pet. One only needs to undertake a quick google search to realise that doggie and feline hotels, day care facilities and designer pet accessories are big business. Certainly, the booming pet care industry reflects a significant change in attitudes towards our furry friends. Indeed, many now view their pets as proxy children or ‘fur-babies’.
For lawyers specialising in Family Law, we have noticed a shift in thinking with regards to pets following separation. Where once, poor Fido went with ‘whoever’ was willing to take him, more often this very question is the source for heated discussions and immense conflict. Increasingly separating clients will dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to discussing (arguing) about where their beloved pet will live. At times this becomes so emotive that it could easily be mistaken for a discussion about care of a human child.
Contrary to this, insomuch as the Court is concerned, pets in separation are treated as property. Who keeps the family pet, is a decision the Court can in fact make but is the extent of their determination and no other consideration is given to the other party maintaining their relationship.
If there is evidence before the Court as to the pet’s monetary value (i.e in the case of a pure breed) it will be taken into account when determining the overall property settlement. More often than not however, the reality is that pets, unlike inanimate objects, form emotional bonds between the parties and the children of the relationship, and leaving this important decision to the Court, is bound to lead to heartbreak for all concerned.
Considering that the Court’s position is generally not a helpful one it may seem appropriate to approach the issue akin in many ways to the one undertaken with regards to children. It is best to try and resolve to settle emotionally charged disputes over a beloved pet by way of negotiating a solution of a kind of ‘shared-care’ arrangement, along with handover clauses, While an Order may not necessarily be fashioned for share care arrangements over a pet, it does not mean an agreement cannot be reached.
For this and any other matter related to Family Law contact Joanna Diamantopoulos or one of the team at Welden & Coluccio Lawyers.