As a mother to a nine month old Mal-Shi puppy, I think of Freddie as my fur-baby and I have noticed when advising clients going through a relationship breakdown or divorce that I am not alone in my feelings towards my beloved pet. It often surprises many clients when I inform 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.

I have noticed an increase in the number of clients seeking advice on this very issue, I 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 broke down.

For those bringing a much loved pet into a marriage or civil partnership I 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.

Kerry Russell – Associate Solicitor, in our Family Law Department. For more information you can contact us on 0161 903 5151

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