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Kerry Russell, Family Solicitor at Gorvins, is “mum” to a Mal-Shi (Maltese Shih Tzu crossbreed), thinking of Freddie as her fur-baby. Kerry has noticed when advising clients going through a relationship breakdown or divorce that she am not alone in her feelings towards her beloved pet. It often surprises many clients when Kerry informs them that in the eyes of the law, the family pet is regarded as a “chattel,” no different to a sofa or coffee table. Many often fail to believe that in the event of a dispute, custody of the family pet will not necessarily be decided on who can offer the pet the most love, care and attention, instead it commonly boils down to who can demonstrate that they purchased the pet and who has paid for veterinarian, food and grooming costs.

In the United States many celeb couples have reportedly been involved in pet custody disputes including Drew Barrymore and ex-husband Tom Green who fought over a pet Labrador named ‘Flossie’. Closer to home The Only Way Is Essex stars Lauren Goodger and Mark Wright agreed custody of their Chihuahua ‘Wrighty’ after breaking off their engagement and Liam Gallagher reportedly took legal advice and even contemplated court proceedings to fight ex-wife Nicole Appleton for access to their two dachshunds.

Kerry has noticed an increase in the number of clients seeking advice on this very issue and was recently involved in a custody dispute involving a horse, the parties were however advised and encouraged to reach an agreement outside of the court arena and therefore avoided what could have been an emotional, lengthy and costly court process. Unfortunately however  former Big Brother stars Melanie Hill and Alex Sibley would have been well advised to do likewise having reportedly spent £25,000 fighting for their Staffordshire Bull Terrier ‘Poppy’ when their relationship broken down.

For those bringing a much loved pet into a marriage or civil partnership consider it a good idea to consider a Pre-nuptial agreement (or a “Pre-Pup”), a formal agreement entered into by a couple in contemplation of a marriage or civil partnership which sets out the couple’s intentions as to who gets custody of the pet (amongst other assets) in the event that the marriage or partnership breaks down. Although pre-nuptial agreements are not specifically enforceable in English law they may have evidential weight when the divorce court is exercising its discretion and they are a sensible way of preventing custody battles and reduces the risk of the much loved pet being collateral damage in the split.

If you would like any advice on pre-nuptial agreements or would like advice regarding a divorce or separation, you may contact Kerry Russell, Associate Family Solicitor by calling  0161 930 5151 or email kerry.russell@gorvins.com