Pet Custody during Divorce

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While many pet owners consider their animals to be a part of their family, the law doesn’t see it that way. In Kelly Thomas James Henderson v Suzanne Dawn Henderson 2016 SKQB 282, the presiding family court judge not only decided that a dog is not a child for which custody can or will be granted but gave clear and decisive reasons for the same. 

In his decision the Judge stated the following;

  • People do not purchase their children
  • Children are not bred for purity or financial gain
  • When our children are sick, we do not euthanize them 
  • An emotional attachment does not make your dog a human any more than it makes your favourite couch a living breathing individual
  • Children cannot be sold in the event of a dispute 

The judge closed this issue with a stern warning to both parties, as well as others who might come forward with this same argument and/or intention, not to waste the court’s time.

Hence Australians should take this warning to heart too. The laws pertaining to pet ownership and custody during the dissolution of a partnership or marriage, is not one that the Australian legal system is designed for, nor interested in, addressing.

Custody issues and eventual agreements are designed to take into consideration the best interest of the child, which includes;

  • Careful consideration of the child’s emotional needs
  • The need to provide the child with a relationship and time with both parents
  • Financial obligations for their immediate care 
  • Concerns related to the education and social welfare of the child

While dogs might share some of the basic needs of children, including the need for food, shelter and occasional medical care, dogs do not require to be loved and raised by their “pet parents.” Dogs can be sold or given to a new owner and still be adequately and kindly cared for. Children, cannot.

Therefore, the Australian court will not hear issues of pet custody. Instead, it is highly recommended that a couple that is divorcing or dissolving their partnership work with each other to craft a schedule to share the pet or allow one party to keep the pet. The court is clear that if the parties cannot come to such an agreement of their own doing, the pet can be sold and the proceeds split between the parties. 

Since this outcome has a very harsh ring to it, it is in everyone’s best interests to come to a more amicable resolution. For example, if you and your partner want to create a pet custody agreement you can look to a child-type custody agreement for guidance. Some options you might want to consider include;

  • Sharing the pet during the week and every other weekend
  • Putting aside some joint funds for the medical needs of the pet
  • Requesting to take the pet on vacation with you in advance of your departure
  • Being willing to be flexible for special occasions or particular dates and times

If you genuinely cannot come to some type of shared arrangement you might ask a friend to take the pet. If you can find a new neutral owner this might allow for both previous owners time to see and/or visit with the pet, sans either party owning the pet. 

If you find yourself in need of assistance with this or any other legal issue, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.

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