By Chloe McGuinness (Senior Associate) and Kristina Antoniades (Special Counsel)
Pet owners invest a lot of time, money and emotion in their pets. For most people, their pets are important and loved members of their family, and it is often devastating when there is a relationship breakdown and there is a dispute about who will retain the beloved family pet.
What the law says
It can come as quite a shock to parties to discover that under the Family Law Act 1975, pets are considered property. There is no consideration given to who might be the best person to care for the pet or what might be in that pet’s best interest. The courts will not consider making Orders similar to “custody arrangements” and it is often as simple as the person who is the registered owner retaining the pet, unless there is agreement otherwise.
As many couples are choosing to buy pets together, or indeed already have pets when they commence relationships, we are seeing a trend emerging overseas where couples are increasingly seeking to protect not just their pre-relationship assets, but also the ownership of their current and future pets.
What you can do
As pets do fall under the umbrella of “property” in Australia, parties can elect to deal with them by including them in a Binding Financial Agreement, either prior to the commencement of a relationship, during a relationship or after the relationship has broken down.
Otherwise, if you purchase a pet whilst in a relationship, it is important to ensure that when you register the animal with your local Council, have them microchipped and registered with Central Animal Records (CAR) and register them with your vet, that this is done in your name to ensure that “ownership” is properly reflected.
If this is something you would like to know more about, please contact the Family & Relationship Law team at KHQ Lawyers.