New approach needed in ‘pet custody’ cases

A rising number of couples in the middle of divorce proceedings are seeking legal advice about who gets custody of the family pet.

The increasing number of enquiries – this sort of dispute develops in a fifth of all separations – has led to calls for greater consideration about what happens to dogs and other animals when their owners part ways.

An article in the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family raises fresh questions about how the courts should handle these cases,

The author, Deborah Rook, from the Northumbria Law School, said the law needed to adapt and acknowledge that, for many couples, a pet is a member of the family.

“[In law] domestic animals are the same as chairs and tables,” she wrote. “It shouldn’t just be based on property; there needs to be other considerations when deciding who the pet should go to.

“While some may feel that fighting for custody of the family pet is an inappropriate use of the family courts and a drain on its time and resources the evidence shows that pet owners do not feel that way.”

Countries such as America and Israel are increasingly taking into account “the best interests of the animal” when deciding who should keep a pet.

In the UK, property law tends to take priority over other considerations, but Ms Rook has argued that other factors should be taken into account by the courts – which in fact might outweigh the traditional property test.