Divorce: Who keeps the dog?

We are a nation of animal lovers. According to the PDSA 50% of UK adults own a pet and 26% have a dog. But what happens to the family dog when a relationship breaks down and a couple separates or divorces? Our pets are often considered cherished members of the family and with emotions running high, some couples end up in long and expensive disputes over who gets to keep them.

Under UK law pets are considered property and are classed in the same category as items of furniture. So, despite considering the pet dog to be a cherished member of the family the court looks at them the same way as a sofa, piece of jewellery, or artwork.

So, what can you do if your relationship breaks down and there is a dispute about who is to keep the family pet?

There are several ways this could be resolved:

  • Negotiate directly with your partner.
  • Mediation – An independent trained professional helps you and your partner reach an agreement amicably.
  • Instruct a solicitor – A solicitor can help negotiate on your behalf.
  • Arbitration – This is an alternative to court. Both parties agree to appoint an arbitrator, who makes a final and binding decision. It is a quicker and more flexible process than through the court.
  • Court proceedings – Generally considered a last resort after pursuing the above.

What factors do the court consider when deciding who keeps the dog?

The court are likely to take into account the following factors:

  • Who bought the animal?
  • Who is the registered owner on the microchip?
  • Who looks after the pet?
  • Who is registered at the vet?

How can potential disputes be avoided?

A couple could enter into a written agreement, referred to as a pet-nup. This agreement records who owns the pet, who is responsible for care arrangements and expenses, and who will keep them if there is a separation.

Like pre-nups the law does not recognise pet-nups as being legally binding, but like pre-nups the court is likely to take such an agreement into account.

For more information, please contact Rachael Chadwick at or Nicholas Rodriguez at

This article is written as a general guide and believed correct at the date of publication. If you need further or more specific information relating to your situation, please get in touch with us.

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