Following a separation, questions about the care arrangements for the children and division of assets are usually front and centre. However there is a different member of the household that can become the subject of a tug-of-war when a relationship breaks down. What happens to the family pet, Fido?
A majority of households in Australia own pets and they are often considered part of the family – many of us boast proudly about our ‘fur babies’. There is a strong emotional attachment and in the midst of separation, the comfort which pets provide to family members cannot be underestimated.
When determining the question of pet ownership following separation, however, the emotional bond is not the deciding factor. From a family law perspective, pets are considered ‘property’.
To resolve disputes, the family law Courts will examine the legal ownership of the pet and consider factors such as whose name the pet is registered in, who provided the purchase costs and who was responsible for expenses and the upkeep costs. Who has the greatest emotional attachment is not taken into account.
The recent appeal case of Grunseth & Wighton  FedCFamC1A 132 confirmed this approach, with the Court stating at paragraph 63 that “As much as it will pain pet lovers, animals are property and are to be treated as such. Questions of attachment are not relevant and the Court is not, in effect, to undertake a parenting case in respect of them.”
As pets are often of limited commercial value, it is prudent to take a sensible approach to resolving any dispute as to future ownership. However, who has the greatest emotional attachment to the Fido will not be the answer.
At Wightons Lawyers, our family law practitioners can provide advice to you to assist with resolving issues around pet ownership and relating to the division of property following separation. We invite you to contact our office on 5221 8777 to make an appointment with our family law team.
This article is general information only and is not legal advice or a substitution for such advice.