It is not uncommon for disputes regarding pets to occur in the context of a relationship breakdown. As the Family Law Act 1975 does not specifically address this issue, the Courts treat pets in the same manner as other property owned by the parties – the difference being that the average family pet usually does not have a significant financial value.
The Federal Circuit Court was required to consider the issue of pet ownership in the case of Downey v Beale  FCCA 316. In this case, the parties had settled the majority of their family law matters by consent but could not agree on who would retain the family dog.
The husband purchased the dog for the wife as an early birthday present while the parties were engaged. The wife had selected the dog herself and the parties picked it up together.
As the parties were not living together at the time, the dog lived with the wife until they started living together. After the parties separated, the dog remained with the wife.
The dog had not been officially registered in the name of either party until the husband registered the dog in his name following separation. The wife provided the Court with evidence that she was listed as the dog’s owner on things such as vet bills.
Based on the evidence presented, the Court held that the dog belonged to the wife and made orders to that effect. This case illustrates the kind of evidence which may be presented to the Court when there is a dispute about who should retain a pet.
It is important to note that family violence issues may arise if one party threatens to kill or injure a pet. A party may do this for a variety of reasons, including because they do not wish to keep the pet or because they want to upset their former partner.
Section 5(2)(e) of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) provides that “causing or threatening to cause the death of, or injury to, an animal, whether or not the animal belongs to the family member to whom the behaviour is directed so as to control, dominate or coerce the family member” may amount to behaviour which constitutes family violence.
Deciding who will keep family pets after separation can be quite stressful and confusing. Caroline Counsel Family Lawyers can assist you to negotiate with your former partner and advise you as to the range of likely outcomes if this issue was to be determined by the Court. You should contact our office to make an appointment on 9320 3900 or email [email protected].
The information in this blog does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon by you. If you require advice specific to your situation you must contact Caroline Counsel Family Lawyers for legal advice. The contents of this blog are relevant as at 24 January 2018. We recommend you obtain specific advice relevant to you and your family’s situation.
By Michelle Petrovski and Caroline Counsel