Furry and Feathered Friends in Family Law

The issue of pets can often be a source of continuing conflict in family law disputes. The emotional connection to pets can strain negotiations, as the main issues in dispute is usually who the pet lives with, and how time is shared between the parties.

This is particularly relevant in Victoria in light of COVID-19 and the increase in pet ownership, where many people sought the companionship of a furry or feathered friend to help ease them through the lockdowns.

While we all adore our pets and consider them to be valuable and loved members of our families, pets are distinct from children in that there is no specific provision in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) that details how to determine sharing the care of a pet, and therefore the Courts do not have jurisdiction to make orders for ‘parenting arrangements’ for pets.

Under the current framework, a pet will be subject to the principles of property distribution and the Courts will make an order for one party or the other to retain the pet. In terms of determining who is to keep the pet, in the same vein as a property dispute, the Courts will look at the general circumstances in which the pet was acquired and who contributed what to the general upkeep of the pet.

Some good indicators of who ‘owns’ a pet are who paid for the pet, who took them to vet, who fed them, groomed them and sometimes who they sleep with and also under whose name the pet is registered. Though this is not completely determinative, this information will help form a clearer picture as to the ownership of the pet.

We understand that navigating disputes in relation to pets can be a difficult and challenging process. If you need assistance with determining the living arrangements for your pet, or your family law matter in general, please contact our office on (03) 9620 0088.

Note: This is general information advice only and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters, please contact us on 03 9620 0088 or email info@resolveconflict.com.au

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