Who gets the pets after divorce?


    During a divorce, there are typically heated arguments over who gets what and these disputes can often lead to heartache and disappointment.

    Battles over the custody of children, houses, cars or holiday homes are quite ordinary. However, who gets the beloved family dog or the gorgeous cat and kittens, which both parties have grown fond of? Can this lead to a custody battle over pets?

    Attorney Claire Waldeck, who looked deeper into the matter said, “Custody battles over pets are not completely abnormal. Britney Spears and her ex-husband, Kevin Federline battled over their dogs during their divorce. Drew Barrymore demanded custody of her labrador, Flossie. American television star, Jon Gosselin lost custody of his two German shepherds to his ex-wife,” explained Waldeck.

    She cited one divorce case in South Africa, where a couple was on the brink of settling and parting ways. However, the matter fell apart as an agreement could not be reached over the custody of their Staffordshire terrier.

    Waldeck highlighted that pets are assets and the owners would need to consider who bought the pet as that spouse would technically be the owner. “It is a matter which could be dealt with by drawing up an [prenuptial agreement] to regulate it up front, which is what people should do. The downside is, pets may not outlast the marriage,” she said.

    It is important to note that if this agreement, made by a couple before they marry concerning the ownership of their assets should the marriage fail, is not drawn up, the matter becomes more complex and would not be regulated if a divorce occurs.

    “During a divorce, the courts always consider what is in the best interests of the child or children born of the marriage. Similarly, we are of the view that the court will give due consideration to what is in the best interests of the animals,” she added.

    “For example, if the pet in question is an older dog with a severe limp, the owner who has a house with no stairs and has time to nurse and care for the frail animal, will take preference over the other owner,” she said.

    Although Waldeck has not personally dealt with any matters of this nature, she concluded, “It must be heartbreaking to lose custody of a beloved pet that is often closer than a family member. Perhaps couples could even agree on visitation schedules to resolve the matter and ensure that both parties can enjoy the company of the pet,” she suggested.

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    Pascale Michael

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