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Who keeps the family pet when a marriage or relationship breaks down?

Pets are a big part of family life. Cats and dogs are often viewed as ‘children’ by their owners – but what happens to the family pet when a couple separates?

The English Courts view pets as possessions (or ‘chattels’) – similar to furniture and paintings. Therefore, when dealing with arguments about family pets, Courts adopt the same approach to arguments about possessions, urging couples that it makes better sense financially to resolve the issue out of Court. 

Separating couples may come to various agreements but in most cases, the family pet stays with the children (and, in practical terms, the caregiver who is around most of the time). Some couples agree a shared care type arrangement, whilst others agree to continue financial support such as insurance, food and vets’ fees etc. None of these agreements are likely to be orders imposed upon a couple by a Court, largely because the legal costs far exceed the financial value of a family cat or dog.

Couples can take precautions to avoid disputes about pets if they separate in the future:

  • A pre-nuptial (or post-nuptial) agreement: a contract signed by both parties before (or after) marriage, outlining how belongings will be divided if they split in the future. The agreement could include details such as where a pet will live and who will support it financially.
  • Cohabitation agreement: a contract signed by an unmarried couple recording agreements about ownership and rights over property, division of contents and payment of bills and any other assets such as pets.

However, if you don’t have either of the above and cannot agree on a way forward, mediation or arbitration may prove to be a more cost-effective forum to resolve disputes about pets.

To discuss a pre- or post-nuptial agreement or cohabitation agreement with a member of our specialist team, please call 0113 201 4902 or email

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