The issue of ‘Pet Custody’ has become a prominent concern in the Australian legal landscape. Despite often treating our pets as members of the family, Australian Family Law continues to view our pets as a form of ‘personal property’. As such, pets are treated like other items in the asset pool, and may be divided between the parties.
The ‘Value’ of Pets
Unfortunately, the value we attribute to our pets does not often reflect the market value Courts will allocate to them. Unless the pet is a purebred or pedigree show dog, there is likely only a nominal value attributed to the pet in comparison to other relationship assets.
Should a significant value be attributed to the pet for particular reasons, it may be necessary to provide evidence to the Family Court verifying this amount.
How is Pet Custody decided?
Courts are generally reluctant to get involved in lengthy arguments between parties regarding the custody of their pets. The preferred resolution is often for parties to settle between themselves a custody plan for the retention of their pets. Should Family Court orders be required, the resolution of this matter is often conducted in a similar vein to that of other personal property allocations.
The following are a range of discretionary factors the Family Court may take into account in determining which party retains ownership and care of the family pet:
- Which parties’ name the pet is registered in.
- Which party undertakes the majority of the responsibilities involved in caring for the pet (day to day care)
- Which party has appropriate housing for the pet and who can satisfy the pets future needs.
- The ability to pay for stabling or training needs, particularly if the pet is a horse or other farm animal (economic needs).
Can you have Shared Custody?
Despite these factors often resulting in sole custody by a single party, it is well within the courts discretion to make orders to the effect of a ‘shared custody’ plan. Such orders are unlikely to be made, unless the orders are consented to by both parties.
Instances where the court is likely to make this type of order is where it directly reflects the ‘best interests’ of children. Should there be children of the relationship in addition to a family pet, it may be deemed by the Family Court to be in the children’s best interests for the pet to follow them between their parents’ homes. This may give the children a sense of familiarity and stability following the breakdown of their parent’s relationship. Additionally, the pet may provide a therapeutic or medical benefit which requires shared custody.
Carter Dickens Lawyers excel at providing legal assistance in all areas of Family Law. We will ensure that you are made aware of all options moving forward and may aid you in the drafting of orders pertaining to the ownership, possession and shared care of your pets.
Please note that the above is general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice. All situations are different and legal advice must always be tailored to the specific situation.