Who Gets Custody of Your Pets in a Separation?

Who Gets Custody of Your Pets in a Separation?

There are many things to consider in the process of separation or divorce. It may never occur to you to think about who will get pet custody after your breakup. However, for some families, the Family Court of Western Australia may be involved in deciding who gets to look after your pet. It is essential to always keep in mind that you need to do what is best for your beloved pet and what is best for your family.

Important Facts About Pet Custody Laws in Australia

  • In the eyes of the Family Court of Western Australia, pets technically come under the same definition as property. Therefore, animals (this can be inclusive of livestock) are seen in a similar way to furniture and cars.
  • Many argue that the laws surrounding this issue are not up to date with mainstream society’s views on animal rights and could be improved.
  • The Family Court of Western Australia can help to settle a dispute over who has ownership or possession of a pet following a separation of a marriage or a de facto relationship.
  • The Court will assess the monetary value of the animal. For example, if you bought your dog or cat from a breeder, they may ask the original price you paid. This is more difficult to assess if your pet is adopted. However, most couples agree that their pet is beyond monetary value, and other factors are considered in deciding where the pet should live.
  • The custody agreement of a pet is technically a ‘property settlement.’ Therefore, it is rare that a court will rule that a couple must have ‘shared custody’ of a pet in the same way that would happen with a child. Usually, the Court will decide on one definitive home for the pet.
  • The settlement must be taken to Court within two years of the separation if you are a de facto couple and within one year if you were married.

How Does the Family Court Decide Who Gets Pet Custody?

The factors that go into the Family Court’s decision on pet custody may include:

  • Who originally bought the pet – when it comes to pets, this is not definitive. For example, one of the parties may claim that the pet was a gift, which could impact the decision.
  • Whose name the pet is registered in with the local council – only if the dog was registered before the separation.
  • Who has had possession of the animal before the separation – this will include the quality of care that the party has given.
  • Who has the best place for the pet to stay – for example, a suitable backyard may be preferable over a small apartment.
  • Who needs the companionship of a pet for emotional reasons.
  • If children are involved and attached to the pet, the Court will often place the pet in the household where the children most often reside.
  • Whether the pet is a service animal – for example, a seeing-eye-dog, will be a definitive factor for the Court, and the party with a medical need for the animal will always get custody of the pet.

Agreeing on Pet Custody Outside of Court

The Family Court of Western Australia has the power to make rulings in regard to pets. However, many couples going through a separation find it easier to make a custody agreement outside of Court. If neither party wants to give up their pet, a timetable could be made-up that allows for equal time. Ultimately, it is only in challenging separations, where the pet’s safety is in question, that the Court may see the benefit of making a ruling.

Leach Legal can Provide Guidance in the Family Court

When you enter into legal separation proceedings, you must have someone you can trust in your corner. Leach Legal specialises in helping our clients navigate the Family Court, even when it involves your beloved pet. This can be a confusing, overwhelming time. We are ready to answer any questions you may have. Please do not hesitate to call us on 9486 9733, or book a free 15-minute consultation with one of our experienced team. 

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