All of us who own a pet, whether it be a dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig, budgie or something more exotic, treat that pet as part of the family.
The family pet is loyal, doesn’t argue, can be house trained and generally gives unconditional love. The big question that looms over any relationship, therefore, is who keeps the pet in the event of separation.
Most people form strong attachments to family pets and during separations, the question of who keeps the pet is often overlooked until the last minute.
It is therefore important, according to Parke Lawyers Managing Director Jim Parke, that suitable arrangements be made beforehand, particularly considering that in Australia, the law ordinarily treats domestic animals as property.
This means that the law does not consider the interests of animals when determining who gets to keep them, which probably seems a bit harsh for a creature that is often our best friend.
It also means that the law does not allow an enforceable agreement to share the care of animals after separation as you would with children, although courts may make consent orders.
Instead, family law courts treat pets as they do any other property available for division between separated spouses. This then brings into play questions such as who brought the pet into the relationship, who cared for it, paid for its upkeep and under whose name is the pet registered.
In Australia, pet records and data for microchipped pets are managed by national or state-based animal registries and a change in ownership is effected by completing and lodging the appropriate forms. Pet registration details may also need to be updated with your local council, especially if the pet will be kept in a different local government area after separation.
Since pets are treated as property, couples should enter into a financial agreement before or during their relationship. This should specify who gets to keep the pet if they separate, in addition to any other asset they may have to divide between them.