Divorce - Who is entitled to keep the family pet?

Yukio Hayashi    27 Feb 2019

Q: I have been divorced with my husband without any children, but I have a family dog. This dog is like a child to my husband and me, and we are disputing ownership of the dog. How does the law treat pets in a divorce?

A: In recent years, many pets (especially dogs and cats) have lived as members of a family, and there have been cases before the courts as to who would own the pet in a divorce.

The Australian Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (Act) has no direct reference to pets owned by couples in divorce proceedings. However, in previous cases before the Family Court, it was decided that pets are personal properties. Based on this, the Family Court, pursuant to section 79 of the Act, considers pets as part of the property of a divorced party and will issue an order as to who owns it.

While pets have generally no financial value, there are cases in which pets have a monetary value due to unique pedigree. If there is a dispute between the parties over the ownership of the pet, the Family Court will, as with any property, take into account each party's case and make its determination.

The following situations are advantageous for claiming that you own the pet:

  • You are registered as the owner of the pet in the local council;
  • A microchip was embedded in the pet, containing your information;
  • There are receipts to prove that you are always bringing your pet to the vet;
  • You regularly bring your pet to a training school;
  • You live in a house that has enough space for pets (especially for large dogs, it is important to live in a house with a large garden);
  • Your pet recognises you as the best owner, often by feeding or taking walks.

In any case, pet ownership should also be determined through mediation or negotiations, rather than a court proceeding. Just like the case of a child custody dispute, what is important is what makes the pet happy.

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Yukio Hayashi

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