What happens with family pets after separation?

Whether they’re furry, feathery or otherwise, pets provide fun, joy and companionship for the whole family. But what happens to the family pets following separation?

The emotional attachment with our pets means we think of them as family members rather than as mere possessions. Unfortunately, though, the law in Australia does not reflect this sentiment.

The Family Law Act deals with pets as personal property, in the same way it deals with other personal property like cars and furniture. This means the family pet will be kept by one person and there is no provision for pet custody arrangements, unless an agreement for this can be reached.

Although pets are considered as personal property, normally they are not assigned a monetary value like other assets. However, in certain situations where a pet has a pedigree or where a pet is used for breeding or competition, a financial value may be assigned. This was the situation in a case called Walmsely & Walmsley. The Court held that the pedigree pets were worth $3,000. The wife retained the pets and they were counted as an asset retained by her.

It is always best for separating couples to try to reach an agreement about who will retain the family pet rather than resorting to legal proceedings. In making appropriate arrangements for the pet, consideration should be given to the following:

  • which person has the most suitable living arrangements and lifestyle to accommodate the pet
  • the bond between the pet and the children and how this can be best maintained
  • who has the financial means to meet the ongoing costs of maintaining the pet.

What if an agreement can’t be reached?

If an agreement can’t be reached about arrangements for the pet and a Judge decides who will retain the pet, a range of factors will be considered including:

  • when was the pet purchased
  • who purchased the pet and the circumstances of the purchase, for example was it a gift to one of the parties
  • who is the registered owner of the pet
  • who was the main carer for the pet during the relationship, for example, who fed the pet, took them for walks and took them 
to the vet
  • who was responsible financially for the pet
  • who has been caring for the pet since separation
  • who has the best ongoing capacity to care for the pet, considering living arrangements, lifestyle and financial means
  • the bond between the pets and the children
  • how the pet arrangements impact the separation broadly.

By Carolyn Devries, New Way Lawyers
The above information is intended to provide general information about the forms of parenting arrangements. It does not represent legal advice. If you would like legal advice about parenting arrangements or other family law matters, please call (07) 3548 5868 for a free 20 minute phone consultation.


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