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Divorce – Who Gets to Keep the Dog?

dog and it's owner

We all know that we are a nation of animal lovers, so it will not be a surprise that 1 in 4 divorces in the UK involves a dispute over a pet.

With it being a legal requirement for all cats to be microchipped in the UK by 10 June 2024, and all dogs over the age of 8 weeks old already legally being required to be microchipped, or their owners face a £500 fine; you may believe that when you are separating it is a given that your beloved family member will live with the partner or spouse that is their main belly scratcher.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Where you and your ex are in dispute about where your dog, cat or other pet family member is living, the law surrounding this is the same as if there is a dispute over a car or piece of furniture. Now as a fellow pet owner, whose dog snoozes on the sofa, and quite frankly rules the roost, I can hear all of you shouting at your phone or computer screen in rage as you read this.

Pets can be expensive, not only to purchase, with the average cost of a puppy in the UK as £400 – £3,000, and cat prices, especially for pedigrees not far behind, at £200 – £2,000 and of course this does not include their many treats, gifts and other cost for their ongoing care. However, most owners view their pets as a family member, and both the pet and the family have a special bond rather than simply a commodity or chattel.


The main questions that will need to be considered in any dispute over a pet are:

  • Who initially paid for them?
  • Was your pet a gift, and if so from whom?
  • Do you have written evidence of this?
  • Who’s the pet’s registered owner on their microchip?
  • Who pays the pet insurance and other outgoings?


If the separating couple cannot agree on where the pet should live, a Court application would need to be made. When making a decision on who owns the pet, the Court, may look into what is in the pet’s interest, and determine who they should live with, this may especially be the case if one person lives in a flat with no outside space, or someone who works longer hours or if the couple have children who are close to the pet, whom they are spending most of their time.

If you are considering purchasing a pet with your partner or spouse, or you are contemplating separation, you should consider entering into a pet-nup or separation agreement which sets out important information about your pet and how they will be looked after, and what will happen in the event of a separation.

If you are in the process of separating and are worried about your pet, then get in touch with our family department for specialist legal advice on 01255 320 555 or email mail@clarkeandson.co.uk.


Jennifer Lee

Family Solicitor

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