It seems really crazy to think that Australian law, like many other countries, views pets as property and as mere chattels in the same way as inanimate objects, such as cars or jewellery to be divided in the event of a divorce.
However, to pet owners, the family pet is a very treasured family member, loved by both parties and their children. Considered as a legal property to humans, distribution of pets also has to follow traditional processes found in the Family Law Act.
Separating couples could have serious fights about who keeps the family pets. But, during this stressful time, it is very important to learn how to protect yourself as a couple and your pets in the event of a divorce.
If your pets are ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council) registered, make sure you look at the legal papers to see whose name(s) are listed as the rightful owners. Also, make sure that you are also on the contact list in the vet records. Keep copies of their current vaccinations, their Microchip ID numbers, and other such important information. If your pet was purchased prior to marriage, then find copies of the buying contract, the source of the funds, and any other documentation that could prove that you are the legal owner.
Think about Parenting Plans
If you are considering a shared custody arrangement of your pets then do understand that just because the law characterises your pets as property that doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Family Law exists as well and it is unique and special. The court honors a reasonable and enforceable agreement, regardless of whether it’s technically the ‘correct’ legal resolution or not.
Don’t forget the details
Remember that you also have to discuss the costs of maintaining your pet if you are going to do a shared custody arrangement. It is not just about the pets food and grooming. Caring for your pets in their older years is something that needs to be discussed, despite it being not a comfortable topic. You both need to decide mutually that at what point do the vet bills become too expensive. Decisions regarding whether to treat or let them go will have to be made. And comfortable or not, these discussions needs to be had.
Your spouse likely has also formed a close attachment to your pets, as much as you love them. Similarly, your pets are likely to love your spouse as well and would miss your spouse terribly if they never saw him or her again. If we truly consider our pets as children, we have to consider their best interests and not be selfish.
Just like it is not in childrens best interests to never see the other parent, the same concern applies to the pets too. Sometimes it is good to make sacrifices if it’s in shared interest of both you and your family.