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With more couples choosing not to have children, custody battles over pets instead of kids are becoming more common. In an ideal world, couples who divorce can come to an amicable agreement, maybe the cat always seemed to bond more to one person than the other for example, but if both partners want to keep their pet, how can it be resolved?
Pets and Divorce in Australian Law
There’s a long history of pet custody disputes in the United States, where some courts will look at the best interests of the pet when deciding who should keep him or her. UK law, however, looks at a pet purely as property, and it goes into the couple’s joint assets that get divided and allocated to one person as part of the judge’s decision, and the same goes here in Australia.
Treating your pet cat or dog as property means that once the decision is made, and the pet is awarded to one party, there aren’t any issues of access rights, like there would be in a custody battle over children, so in some ways it can make it easier.
What this doesn’t take into account, however, is that treating animals as property doesn’t look at the emotional well-being of the pet, the ‘losing’ party and any children involved that may now lose access to their beloved family pet. Sadly, the emotional attachment to a pet can lead to the custody situation turning into a power struggle.
When it does get to court as part of a divorce, the judge is likely to look at factors such as who purchased the pet, who is the main caregiver, who pays for the majority of the care (food, vet bills etc.), and where any children will be living.
What to Consider if You’re Facing a Pet Custody Battle
> Try to think about it dispassionately.
It’s likely that both of you are going to want to keep your cat, but try to think about the cat’s best interests. Is one of you the primary caregiver? Will your cat be traumatised by having to move house, or leave a beloved pet parent behind?
> Are there children involved?
If the children aren’t going to be living with you, is it in their best interest for you to have custody of the cat?
> Try to arrange custody between yourselves.
If it doesn’t become a matter for the courts, you’re more likely to be able to compromise with each other. If your split is amicable, then it might be that shared custody could work for you, or it might be easy for the person who doesn’t keep custody to visit regularly.
> Get as much as possible in writing.
Even if custody goes to your ex, try to get a written agreement that sets out access arrangements and restrictions that mean the other person can’t give the cat away. Even though such an agreement wouldn’t be legally binding, it can have some sway if it goes back to court.
Have you ever faced a custody battle with your ex for your cat or dog? Please share…
Image: Mark Patterson II via Flickr
Really great tips! I had no idea that they were considered “property” in some places. It seems strange to think of them that way as they are living, breathing, feeling animals that in the end will always have a preference, however, in any point, the animals’ best interest is the most important!
I love that you mentioned to think about the cats preference. Even if you are both great owners, it is likely that your cat has a preference to one person and it would be cruel to separate them just to make yourself happy. Great advice!
This is such an important post. I would imagine it’s difficult amidst all of the emotions, but it’s always important to do what is best for your cats’ well-being, Thank goodness we’ve never had to deal with this.
Cathy Armato says
That is such a scary scenario to think about. My dogs are my children but I don’t know how the courts would ever see it. Every couple hopes they’ll never split up but Shih Tzu happens and couple break apart. I hope we never have to face such a battle.
In a way it is really sad that this is such an important topic. My heart hurts for people who go through divorce. My parents divorced when I was a child and the experience was gut wrenching (it wasn’t exactly a typical divorce situation though). Hopefully laws in all countries will adjust to reflect the status pets have to the people of that country. In developed countries, pets are more like children than like property.
we have very distinct “his” and “her” cats so it would be pretty easy to figure it out in this house, but if we only had one.. I can’t imaine
Rosa @ Cat Lady Confidential says
Here in Portugal I don’t think there are pet custody disputes in courts, at least that I’ve heard of. But this is definitively an important issue and I hope I’ll never have to deal with it.
GROOVY GOLDENDOODLES says
I think this is going to become more of a topic of conversation all across the nation. I don’t know how I would handle it.
Lily de Grey says
Thanks for sharing this article with us; I’m happy to know that I’m not alone in a divorce with an animal custody battle. My divorce attorney has been meeting with my for the past couple weeks, and we’re trying to get my husband on-board with giving me the cat—after all, I DID buy it. Wish me luck; I really hope that I retain possession of my cat!
A very difficult situation to be in….
But really, we aka The Kitty Clan would always stay with the P.A. no question about it! MOL
Thankfully we don’t have to worry about that, but Mom would never ever part with us.
Caren Gittleman says
an important question indeed. In my first marriage, I proclaimed in the beginning, that if anything happened my Angel Bobo would come with me (I must have known something would happen lol)….we divorced and Bobo went with me. It did make me sad because my ex adored him, but I had the more stable job at the time, and could provide for him better and Bobo was extremely attached to me.
With my current husband there would be a battle over Dakota for sure…..Cody would probably for sure come with me, but they both adore my husband too so it wouldn’t be an easy thing. I pray that is something I never have to deal with!
The Swiss Cats says
Those are very important points to consider, especially thinking for the pet well-being instead of thinking of winning a battle. Purrs
This is increasingly more important to consider. I know where I’m going if the two humans here were to ever split up, though! Although I might miss the cantaloupe.