Dogs and divorce: looking after the interests of your best friend
Who gets the dog is often a serious bone of contention in divorce proceedings. Emotions can run high when our canine companions are involved. Research by the dogs trust showed that 27% of dog owners were currently in a relationship said that the most important thing they would claim if they separated from the partner would be the dog.
In a special guest blog, specialist divorce lawyer Rita Gupta of LGFL Ltd offers some practical tips on ensuring your dogs (and other pets) don’t get left out in divorce negotiations, and what provision might be written into a divorce financial settlement.
“As a nation, we Brits love our dogs. According to research by Mintel, 56% of UK households include a pet, 33% of men owned a dog, and 29% of women and a dog. I own a Havanese myself, who very much rules the roost!
However, there is a clue to the heart of the “who gets the pets” problem in the paragraph above, the word ‘own’. Under the law of England and Wales, a pet is a chattel, which describes any item of property owned by a person apart from land. There are special rules that apply to animals that don’t apply to other positions such as cars or homes. All parts of UK have criminal anti-cruelty legislation that assign a duty of care to the owner of any animal.
Dogs and separation: think ahead
Many couples have to address the issue pet care long before they may actually start divorce proceedings proper. If you separate or move out of the family home, somebody has to look after your pets during what can be an emotional and turbulent time.
When separating, or considering doing so, it’s important to consider the basic logistics of looking after a dog. Dogs need a place and a space to live comfortably in. It may be hard to find rental accommodation at short notice that will take a dog, let alone one with a garden. Many rentals do not accept dogs at all. This is an issue the Dogs Trust Lets with Pets scheme is trying to address.
The financial cost of looking after a dog can be considerable too (as we all know!). All financial costs should be taken into consideration if you are suddenly looking after a dog on your own, including:
• dog food
• vets bills – routine and unexpected
• dog grooming
• dog walkers and daycare costs
• training classes
• showing, dog sports, and dog activities
The last two points show another factor you need to somehow account for – your time. If you remove the dog from its usual support system and/or location, you’ll need time to set up new arrangements for their care. You might need to interview new dog walkers, or drive back home farther to let it out during the day. That will increase your car mileage and fuel costs, and it all adds up.
Children and their canine friends
Separation between a family and their pets can also hit children very hard. Suddenly, their furry best friend is no longer there, at a time when children need extra reassurance and stability in their lives. Dogs too can suffer separation anxiety when apart from their family.
One of the most distressing parts of our job is seeing how some absent parents use family pets as a ‘bargaining chip’ to get more contact time with their children. We have had cases where one parent has bought a puppy to ensure the kids want to come and stay, causing upset and resentment from the other parent who view it as a deliberate attempt to manipulate.
Taking/keeping the dog? Two essentials you need before divorce
All dogs are required to be microchipped by law. Each microchip is numbered and linked to an online database. You need the name of the database service, the account number and password account before you split up. Then, you can update your contact details and ensure if your dog is found, they are returned to you, not your ex!
If you jointly own a pedigree dog, you will need to have ownership transferred into your name only. For dogs registered with the Kennel Club, only the current registered owner can transfer ownership. So make sure this is a stipulation in any divorce agreement as the paperwork can take some time.
The ultimate decision
Hard as it may seem, the best solution for your dog may ultimately be a new home. This is not an unusual scenario; rehomings due to separation have shot up 290% since 2010. Rehoming should always be done through a recognised, reputable organisation such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, whose Rehoming & Welfare Manager Becky Fisher says: “We understand home circumstances change and the most difficult but responsible decision may be to bring your dog or cat to a rescue centre, where the best possible home will be found through a detailed adoption process.”
Caring for all the family
At my law practice near Reading, we always consider pets to be part of the family. Our aim is to make sure they are given due consideration and are provided for a divorce settlement, just as the rest of the human family should be. Divorce make be a legal process, but in real life, it’s always about much more than just the law.
Rita Gupta is a Director of LGFL Ltd, a family law firm based in Swallowfield Reading. Their sympathetic and pragmatic approach to divorce has seen the firm included in the prestigious Legal 500. LGFL offer a free 30-minute consultation at their discreet countryside offices, just five minutes’ drive from the dog-friendly Wellington Country Park!