Divorce: Who keeps the dog?

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Divorce: Who keeps the dog?

Who keeps the dog?

Whether you’re a cat or a dog person, one thing that pet owners can agree on, is that pets are very much part of the family. It is for that reason that discussions regarding who keeps a pet upon separation are often difficult and highly emotive.

We regularly receive enquiries regarding the legal position on pet ownership when couples separate, sharing care of pets and how disputes regarding the same can be resolved.

How are pets considered by the UK’s Family Courts?

At present, the Family Courts in England & Wales view pets as property or "chattels" and do not tend to get involved in disputes regarding ownership.

Ownership of a pet may be considered upon divorce when addressing issues in the round, but the Family Courts will not deal with this issue in isolation and the court cannot make any orders in relation to who the pet belongs to.

When thinking about what should happen to the pet, the following factors may be considered: -

  • Who paid for the pet; broadly speaking whoever paid for the pet is likely to be considered the legal owner.
  • Who pays the insurance/healthcare plan?
  • Who pays the vet bills?

What if we agree to share care of our pet?

The court can make an order regarding the living arrangements for children, known as a Child Arrangements Order.

As pets are seen as property, the court cannot make a similar order regarding the living arrangements for a pet. It is therefore entirely down to the separating couple to reach agreement as to what the arrangements for their pets will look like and, to consider if this is going to be practical long term.

If the separating couple are finding those discussions difficult, mediation is a good option to explore. This will allow discussions to take place in a neutral and confidential setting with the support of an independent third party who can hopefully guide the parties to a resolution.


If you are thinking about getting a pet with your partner but are worried about what would happen if you were to separate in the future, it is worthwhile considering a "pet-nup". This written agreement is the pet equivalent of a prenuptial agreement.

A pet-nup can detail who would care for the pet upon separation, who would take on responsibility for vet bills and insurance and, what a shared care arrangement might look like.

Whilst an agreement like this is not legally binding, it could reduce the risk of a stressful and upsetting dispute upon separation. The Blue cross has a helpful template that is free to access here - Pet Nup | Pet Ownership after a Relationship Breakdown | Blue Cross


Contact our friendly solicitors today to find out more about our services and how we can help you and your family. Get in touch by either calling us on 0345 872 6666 or by leaving your details via our online enquiry form.

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