Who Gets the Dog?
Have you ever wondered what would happen to your pet in the event that you and your partner separate? Have you gone as far as actually discussing who your pets would live with, and would it be a shared-time arrangement?
Approximately three quarters of Australian households own pets, with over $33 billion spent on pet products and services in 2022 and an average of $3,218 spent per dog per year. It is therefore not surprising that “what happens to my dog?” is one of the most common questions we get asked.
How are Pets Treated in Family Law Disputes?
When determining parenting arrangements for children, the main consideration of the Court is “what is in their best interests?”. Unfortunately, the same approach does not apply to your fur babies.
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (“FLA”) provides no specific guidance to the treatment of pets in family law proceedings. Therefore, pets are treated as property and form the overall asset pool that can be divided, just like bank accounts, houses, and cars. This usually comes as a surprise to people who have emotional attachments to their pets, as opposed to their other personal items.
Further, pets are not generally valued like other possessions such as cars, boats and business interests, unless the pet is used to derive an income, such as in racing, breeding or in competitions. If pets are racing or breeding animals, they are treated as a business asset.
The position that pets are property was affirmed in the matter of Downey & Beale  FCCA 316 where a couple had agreed on every aspect of their family law dispute, except for the ongoing ownership of their dog. The critical evidence was such that whilst the couple was dating but before they lived together, the husband purchased the dog for the wife as a gift and the dog lived with the wife at her parents’ house. The Court ruled in favour of the wife, declaring that she was the owner of the dog as it was purchased for her as a gift. This case shows the approach that the Court will take, in identifying pets as property that can be transferred, gifted and sold, and not as members of the family.
How can Southern Waters Legal Help?
Southern Waters Legal can help in the event you require assistance with your pet custody matter or your family law matter generally. Our team of Solicitors can assist in negotiation, mediation, and proceeding to Court if required. We understand that pets are more than simply “property”, they are your family.