Categories: The Family Lawyer Education Center486 words1.9 min read

Pets – Personal Property or Family Members?

About the Author: Kristdel Bolog

Kristdel practices solely in Family Law has been a Partner at The Family Lawyer since June 2019. Aside from her amazing ability to recite from memory the entire “Ode to Spot” by Commander Data, she has a wealth of knowledge and practical experience from a decade in the field of family law. Kristdel’s passion for the law and a love of helping people through difficult times enables her to put peoples minds at ease, even during complicated or bitter family court proceedings. As our resident “empath” she is The Family Lawyers’ Counsellor and is always there to listen to her colleagues or clients and bring a smile to their faces. Her nickname around the office is “the nerd”, a badge she wears proudly. Kristdel is hardworking, knowledgeable and dedicated to getting great outcomes for her clients. You can contact her at kbolog@thefamilylawyer.com.au or on 03 8657 3751.
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October 4, 2021

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During a relationship, especially a long one, many couples purchase a pet who end up becoming beloved family members in the owners’ eyes, so any suggestion that they should not be treated in the same way as children is met with surprise.

How are pets treated in family law?

As much as we see our beloved fur babies like family, unfortunately, the Family Law Act does not mention pets, and therefore the general legal position is that they are chattels. Disputes about who should keep pets are rarely decided by the Court. This is likely because the Court takes a relatively poor view of parties who cannot resolve the division of personal property and can be considered akin to arguing over a couch.

pet custody during separation in Melbourne

How does the Australian court determine pet ownership?

However, if a resolution cannot be reached and the matter must be determined by the Court the allocation of ownership of the pet will be determined in accordance with the principles applied to other assets in property settlement proceedings. The Court has the power to make any order it considers appropriate altering the interests of the parties to the relationship. The factors the Court may look at when determining what is appropriate are:

  • The name the pet is registered in;
  • Whether the pet was paid for by one party or jointly;
  • Whether the pet was brought into the relationship by one party;
  • If there are any children of the relationship who wish for the dog to remain in their household;
  • The suitability of the homes of each of the parties; and
  • The space required to keep the pet.

Resolving pet custody disputes

Many separations are highly emotional, and feelings can be amplified with fighting over the family cat, dog, or ferret. Parties are encouraged to negotiate an agreement between themselves as to who will retain the pet. This might be achieved through alternative dispute resolution. The court is only ever a last resort, especially for cases solely dealing with the narrow issue of pet ownership.

If property proceedings are already underway for other items of property, it is commonplace for the family pet to be excluded from the list of assets in the balance sheet. If they are to be included, they would usually be given a nominal value. If an animal is valuable, for example, a prize-winning show dog or thoroughbred racehorse, it may need to be valued and subsequently entered on the balance sheet. Similarly, it may be appropriate to enter these on the balance sheet for income-generating animals such as livestock.

While the legal position is that pets are things that are allocated to one of the parties in a property settlement, this does not preclude parties from coming to an agreement for the pet to spend time with the other. In some cases, parties even come to shared care arrangements where the pet spends alternative weeks with each of the parties.

How can we help?

If you need legal advice or support, our experienced and compassionate family lawyers can assist you, whatever stage you may be at. Talk to us today for a FREE 15-minute family law consultation by calling 03 8657 3751 or via email at enquiries@thefamilylawyer.com.au we look forward to helping you achieve a better outcome.

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