Couples fight like cat and dog over pets in divorces

Pets are now regarded almost as important as children, when couples argue about their divorce settlements, according to a Midlands family solicitor.

Nigel Mears, partner and head of the family law team at Black Country law firm George Green, said tug-of-love battles over the family pet, or other animals, are becoming much more common when couples split.

“When couples separate and divorce, it’s surprising just how much time can be spent discussing what should happen to the animals the unhappy couple once shared,” said Mr Mears, who is based in George Green’s Cradley Heath offices. “This can cause additional emotional tension and trigger bitter arguments as to who will keep a pet, or who will meet the cost of the vet bills.

“At its most basic, an animal is just an asset, which when food and vets bills are taken into account can cost a lot of money each year. If the couple cannot agree on who will look after it, or there is no money left in the settlement to pay for its upkeep, the pet can easily end up in an animal shelter.

“However, where there is sufficient money available to pay for an animal’s upkeep, there is little actual case law to guide the courts on how to treat the costs of maintaining pets upon divorce, as most divorce cases settle long before a judge gets to give his or her final word.

“Some animals can be regarded as pertinent to maintaining stability for the children after the divorce, so the upkeep of much-loved family dog could be included in a settlement, as can other animals which are regarded as an element of the standard of living enjoyed by the parties before the breakdown of the marriage,” explained Mr Mears.

In one extreme example of this, an unnamed divorcee was recently awarded £50,000 a year in her settlement to help maintain a stable of horses.

The couple had been married for 11 years and had no children. He worked in the City and she worked part-time, spending the majority of her time caring for their four horses, three belonging to the wife and one to the husband. A dedicated horsewoman, she was quoted in the judgment as describing her horses as ‘her family’. She was also described as ‘a talented rider participating in eventing’.

The judge recognised her needs in terms of herself and the horses and she was awarded enough money to buy a large property with land. She was also awarded maintenance of £50,000 a year to meet her needs, including those of the horses. Her ex-husband appealed, but was unsuccessful.

“While unusual this settlement shows that the courts are now recognising just how important animals are in our daily lives,” said Mr Mears. “With pet ownership increasing and divorce prevalent, there is bound to be more fighting like cat and dog over the cats and dogs.”