Is It Legal To Keep A Co-Owned Pet After Separation?

Getting a pet with your partner is a significant milestone for any couple. But what happens to your cat or dog when the magic dies and you each go your separate ways? Who gets to keep the pet? Let's find out.

Young couple with pet image from Shutterstock

Everybody has the best of intentions when they start a relationship. Couples settle down together; they may even start a family. It's not unusual for couples to acquire a pet, often before kids even come into the picture. Some people think of their pets as a substitute for a child or, at the very least, a part of the family.

But in reality, a pet is as an asset. If a couple should separate, unless there is a pre-nuptial agreement or a Binding Financial Agreement under the Family Act Law (affectionately dubbed "pet-nup") that stipulates who the pet should follow, it will go through the same process of asset division.

As you would expect, it's better to pre-empt these kind of issues by setting up a pet-nup. Legally binding documents should be prepared when you get a pet to clear up what will happen to it should you and your partner break up. As law firm Slater+Gordon explains:

"So, for example, you could have a Binding Financial Agreement at the start of a relationship or marriage that simply specifies who is going to get a specified pet. If the pet was clearly identified, for example by reference to its registration number, so long as the pet was still alive at the end of the relationship or marriage, then the Binding Financial Agreement would be clearly enforceable and would avoid any dispute about ownership."

However, not many people would have that kind of foresight, especially when they're madly in love, and nothing is more of a mood killer than a legal contract. If you do find yourself in a situation where you've separated with your partner with no pet-nup, it will be a matter of negotiating with your former lover. According to Tindall Gask Bently Lawyers:

"In law, your pet is seen as property… The Court expects you and your partner will be able to negotiate who gets what of your personal property without assistance. It is recognised though that items of personal property that have sentimental value and significance to you and your partner may become something the Court needs to make a decision about."

Bear in mind your pets are not your children and there is no such thing as legally enforceable "visitation" rights that you can fight for, even if it is noted in a pet-nup. If you do want to see your pet again after ownership has been passed on to your ex-partner, you'll have to nut out the details around visitations privately.

Have you been through a situation where a relationship ended and you had to decide who keeps the shared pet? Let us know in the comments.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


    From my experiences its who ever signs the registration info is the owner.
    That little piece of paper save my pup from being taken away from me, glad the ex was a tight ass otherwise it would be her name on the paper

      Yeah, I also would have thought that if it is registered in one person's name and not the other, they would most likely get it. Also if there was payment involved? As in, who ever paid the fees for the pet would claim ownership?

        luckily enough I didnt have to deal with any of that, she just wanted the dog so I couldnt have it.
        Once I challenged her with signed documentation she backed off, she did try to dog nap it later on but what can I say, dogs are loyal to their true owners ;)

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