The Silent Victims of Divorce: Cats & Dogs.

This post answers the following questions

1) What are the effects of divorce?
2) Who are often described as the main victims of divorce?
3) What happens to family pets after?
4) Who are the silent victims of divorce?
5) What does original ownership mean in practice?

The often silent victims of divorce: cats & dogs.

When couples divorce, their assets are divided and distributed in shares deemed equitable by the court. Shared property may be sold, savings split and other financial or tangible assets apportioned to one spouse or the other. Even custody of children may be shared or split, but what about pets? Separating a handful of guinea pigs or goldfish may be an option, but halving the family dog or cat would only end in tears. What happens to family pets after divorce?

Silent Victims

Children are often described as the main victims of divorce. When parents separate, children can suffer incredible emotional and psychological damage, but at least they can discuss their problems with friends, family, parents, teachers and counsellors. Pets are not afforded the same luxury. They have no say in what happens to them when their owners decide to separate, yet divorce can have a profound effect on their health and happiness.

More often than not, the court does not treat pets such as cats and dogs as members of the family. Animals are considered to be items of property that must be included in divorce settlements alongside all other tangible and intangible assets. This often results in disputes over ownership or custody, as either spouse may have become emotionally attached to the family dog or cat. Why should one person retain ownership while the other loses out?


The court may be inclined to grant custody of a family pet to whichever spouse can prove original ownership. In the US, the law courts recognise that many people regard their pets as members of the family; as such, the best interests of the animals may be considered when assigning custody. Just as a child would not, or at least should not, be sent to live with an abusive parent, a dog or cat in the US would not be awarded to the spouse who cannot provide adequate warmth, shelter and food.

In the UK, courts do not recognise the rights or interests of pets. As mentioned above, animals are simply treated as assets or items of property. The situation may evolve as pets are given greater focus in the US, but for now, lawyers have to work hard to ensure that their clients retain possession of their family pets after divorce. The problem with assigning custody of an animal by proof of original ownership is that a person might purchase a dog or cat as a gift for his partner. Also, what does original ownership mean in practice? Does the person who bought the pet have greater title than the person who had it registered and microchipped? What about the person who spent more time caring for the animal?

Choosing to contest ownership of the family pet can be a tactic employed to negotiate concessions in other areas; for example, a husband who purchased a dog for his wife might be willing to let the animal stay with her after they divorce if she agrees to give up her share in the family business. As with children, pets can be used as emotional bargaining chips in acrimonious divorces.

How Best to Proceed?

Typically, a pet such as a dog or cat should stay with the main group of family members, preferably in the family home, to avoid additional disruption. If, for example, a mother and her three children retain occupancy of the family home, pets should probably stay put. In other cases, shared custody should be considered, allowing the pet to spend some time with one person and the remainder with the other.

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This article was contributed by Lloyd, a freelance writer and blogger, on behalf of Switalskis Solicitors.

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