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How does the Family Law Act deal with pets after separation?

Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors
Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors
How does the Family Law Act deal with pets after separation?

In this podcast, Solicitor Alexander Gee discusses pets in regard to a separation and how this is handled by the Family Law Act.

Annie: “Welcome, today I’m talking with Alexander Gee from Mullane and Lindsay Solicitors, Newcastle, and Tea Gardens. Hi Alexander, thank you for taking my call today.”

Alexander: “Hi, Annie. Thanks, it’s good to be talking with you.”

Annie: “Our topic of discussion, is how does the family law act deal with pets after a separation. Can you please tell me how pet is treated in a family law context?”

Alexander: “Well, it’s actually really interesting because people often have really strong views about the family pets, they’re often treated more like family than anything else. The reality is and I know this may upset some pet owners, but pets don’t fall into the legal definition of a child and there’s no specific rules of pet ownership under the family law act. So, if there is a dispute about how gets to keep the family dog, they’re essentially going to be treated by the court as property and so any other household item.”

Annie: “So, how does a court decide who gets the family pet?”

Alexander: “Well, if there is a dispute, again you can agree otherwise but if there is a dispute you go through the usual property settlement pathways, so specifically in relation to a pet you’d be looking at who owns the pet, that is who its registered to, when did they buy it and what is it worth today. So often times its difficult to put a value on pets and in this case the pet could be the fair market value at the time you’re going into a property settlement, or it could be an amount agreed between the couple. We also have pets that have a higher value because they generate income or because they may be famous.  So, for example there was a recent case involving an Instagram famous cavoodle. So, if the pets worth more, the monetary value may be considered by the court as an asset when determine all of the property of the relationship should be divided. You then need to consider each partners contribution to the relationship, as partners you can look at who bought the pet and how much they paid and there may be a pretty substantial difference between say your everyday pets and you’re working or designer dog that someone has spent thousands of dollars on. You can also look at who paid the expenses of the pet, so who met the costs of food and vet bills and things like that during the course of the relationship.”

Annie: “Is it only a question of who paid for the pet or are there other things that need to be considered?”

Alexander: “Definitely, so its not just the financial aspect that you need to consider, its also important to look at who was caring for the pet, potentially even consider the emotional attachment to each person to the pet and if it’s particularly important, looking at involving parenting matters as well and if your children have developed a strong relationship with the pet. There have been a few cases where they’ve essentially allowed the pet to continue living with the person who is living with the children because of that emotional attachment. Although there’s definitely not a strict rule on each of the cases, it will be different.”

Annie: “Is there anyway people can protect their pet in the event of a separation?”

Alexander: “I think the most important thing people can do is keep good records about the things we’ve spoken about. So, records on who is meeting the cost of the pet, who pays for it, making sure that pet is registered in your name long before separation. If the pet was given to you by your partner as a gift for example, you would keep some kind of record in relation to that. But by the end of the day if there’s a real dispute going about who’s going to keep the family pet, the best thing you can do is probably get some legal advice about your rights.”

Annie: “Can the court make people share the family pet?”

Alexander: “The short answer is no, and that’s because again pets aren’t treated as children or family members. If the court took the view that pets need to be treated as similar to children, they can consider things such as what’s in the best interest of the pet and they can make orders about who the pet lives with and who it spends time with. As it stands though, the court currently only has the power to make orders of who owns the pets and that just determines who the pet lives with.”

Annie: “Do you think this will ever change and that pets will be considered as family members instead of just property?”

Alexander: “I think there’s a pretty significant push particularly internationally for pets to be recognised as more then just property. Earlier this year there was laws in Spain that recognised pets as sentient beings and should be treated as legal family members, and I know there is similar rules in both France and Portugal. So, the answer is maybe, it could change in the future but right now in Australia were just not quite there yet.”

Annie: “Well thank you very much for your time today, it is so important to care for our fur babies, they’re so vital in our lives and thanks to Mullane and Lindsay, Newcastle and Tea Gardens.”

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