Who Let the Dogs Out?
As a nation of animal lovers, people tend to treat and think of their pets as members of the family with equal rights and human feelings. Whilst in practice that may be true, in law an animal is treated as a chattel, which is no different from a painting or a piece of furniture.
So when it comes to deciding who owns a family pet following a relationship breakdown, a court is going to look at things like who bought it and who maintained it, rather than who loves it the most.
There haven’t been many reported cases on this subject, so perhaps it’s just something the courts haven’t dealt with much before, or maybe it’s something that people don’t talk about much. So, I’m proud to say that despite a lack of case law, our wonderfully talented Nick McEwen has successfully fought and won a claim on who keeps the household pets.
Our client was in a relationship for over 10 years. Although they were never married, they jointly owned a property together. There were also 3 great Danes, which our client maintained belonged to her alone, and were not joint property.
Our client’s ex said that the dogs were purchased together and that they “co-owned” them.
Our client was able to show that all the documentation: vet bills, kennel club documents, certificates and receipt of purchase for the Dogs themselves were all in her sole name. What was the final blow against the ex was an email that he sent to our client, demanding that she come and get the dogs from him or he’d be putting them into a shelter. Not the kind of thing you’d say if you wanted to keep animals that belong to you.
Whilst we were always quietly confident of our position, you always have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. So, what would have happened if the court had decided that they were jointly owned assets? You can’t exactly apply the wisdom of Solomon and cut the dogs in half. You can’t even divide them equally, given that there were three of them. As bad as my maths is, even I know that two into three doesn’t go without a remainder!
Fortunately, courts do have a general ability to apply a common sense approach, so that even if there had been some receipts and invoices in the ex’s name, the Judge could still have found in our client’s favour. Or she could have found that the dogs were jointly owned, but assign a value to them, and that one party had to “buy” the other party out of their share.
The moral of the story is to keep your paperwork and pick a good solicitor!
Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Our bark is just as lethal as our bite.