Long Saad Woodbridge

Custody of pets in separation: who gets to keep them?

Separation & Pets

Separation can have a significant impact on all members of the family, including pets. Approximately 61% of Australian households have at least one pet. In the event of a separation, pet ownership can be a serious and emotionally charged issue.

Define a Pet?

In cases of divorce or separation, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides no specific provisions about pet “custody”.

Pets are usually treated by “owners” as members of a family, a core part of relationships, with some even considering pets to be like a child. But at law, pets are property and not treated like a spouse or child would be.

Do I have to go to Court about my pet?

No, you don’t have to go to Court. It’s always best for separating couples to reach an agreement themselves without the intervention of the Court. This can be done through direct negotiations, lawyer-assisted negotiations, or mediation.

Before you commence negotiating about who should take care of the pet, you should consider practical factors such as the size of each home, after separation whether you need a garden, social and work commitments, and respective financial capacities.

What happens if I go to Court for my pet?

The Family Court if asked will generally consider the following factors to decide who should have the pet on a final basis.

  • Who purchased the pet?
  • Did either spouse have it before the relationship began?
  • Whose name is the pet registered under?
  • Who has current possession of the pet?
  • Is the pet a service animal which one party relies on or will rely on in the future?
  • Who made financial contributions towards the pet – Including food or veterinary payments, pet insurance, and grooming fees?
  • If there is a child of the relationship who has an established or proven attachment to the pet. A Court may prefer to assign the pet to the primary residence of those children, acting in the child’s best interests.

At times, the Court may make an order to sell the pet, distributing its value in the same manner as if it was a property asset such as a house or piece of furniture.  

How can we help?

If you find yourself in a situation involving a pet custody dispute in a separation, our experienced Family Law team are at your disposal to help you reach a fair decision.

Important Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and for reference purposes only.  It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.  Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.



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