The family law on pets when a relationship ends

Couples often get into a lot of distress over who can take the pet when a relationship breaks down. This would be a simple dispute to avoid if, at the start of the relationship or marriage, they drafted a legally enforceable agreement specifying who gets ownership of the pet in the event of a breakup or divorce.


Everyone will have come across the word "Pre-nup" at some point, jargon for Binding Financial Agreements under the Family Law Act, where you agree at the beginning of the relationship or marriage on how the whole asset pool is to be divided if there is a separation. The biggest issue with enforcing a Pre-nup a long time after the relationship or marriage begins is that, when you sign the Pre-nup, you can never accurately estimate your future assets. That overlays a significant amount of uncertainty, and becomes one of the key reasons why some Pre-nups get set aside later on.

How does this apply to pets?

The Family Law Act allows people to have a Binding Financial Agreement that is limited to just one asset. You are not required to cover every asset that each side has, or will have in the future, although that is what most Pre-nups try to do.

So, for example, you could have a Binding Financial Agreement at the start of a relationship or marriage that simply specifies who is going to get a specified pet. If the pet were clearly identified (e.g. by reference to its registration number), so long as the pet is still alive at the end of the relationship or marriage, then the Binding Financial Agreement would be clearly enforceable and would avoid any dispute regarding ownership.

If neither side owns a pet at the start, you could potentially say in the agreement that if a pet is purchased during the relationship/marriage then the person with proof of payment of purchase gets to own the pet.

It is important to remember that the law does not enable legally enforceable "visitation" rights for pets. The law only specifies who gets to own one. In that regard a pet is the same as any other asset, such as a car or a necklace.

How AHL Legal can help you

Should you have any questions about the drafting of binding financial agreements, AHL Legal have experienced family lawyers who can assist you.