Puppy love: who gets the dog in separations?

In today’s society, more and more couples are choosing not to have children until later in life, perhaps due to financial constraints and the difficulty getting on the housing ladder in order to provide a suitable base from which to start a family.

Increasingly it seems, they’ll often choose to own one or more dogs to make up for not having kids.  In many respects that can be great preparation for life with children as young couples take on responsibility for their furry friends who are pretty much helpless, require lots of love, walks, feeding and looking after when you want a day or a night out without them.

As a result, I’m finding that more and more of my cases are involving disputes between couples over who gets to keep the dog. When it comes to solving disagreements over family pets, the court can be quite ineffective. The law groups dogs in a category known as ‘chattels’ – the same category for house furniture and personal possessions. If an agreement can’t be reached as to how these ‘chattels’ should be divided, then one option is for the court to order a sale/auction of them and for the proceeds to be divided between the couple. This is usually enough for one person to cave and agree to give up their pet to their ex-partner.

Mediation and collaborative law are much more effective in dealing with the dog issue, as it’s the couple who controls the agenda in these processes. They can, and inevitably do, talk about anything they want.

I’ve had two very recent cases where we were sorting out not only how the dog shares its time between the couple, but also about payments for vet bills and dog food. In one case, it was the very issue of the dog that brought the couple to tears, which proves just how important family pets are to their owners and how much they’ll fight to keep them.

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