What Will Happen to Our Pets if we Separate?

Our Amy Trevellick talks about what happens to your pets upon separation and whether a pet nup is right for you.

With the increase of pet ownership since the start of the pandemic, many people are now asking “what will happen to our pets if we separate?”. Of course, anyone who owns a pet will know that they soon become part of the family. It is therefore difficult to explain to client’s that their pets will only be considered a “chattel”, much in the same way as the furniture in their home, or their personal possessions. Unfortunately, the law has not developed in this area to keep up with the modern family owning domestic pets, and so this outdated approach remains in place.

When it comes to deciding the ownership of “chattels”, the law will consider who bought the item in the first instance. Insofar as this applies to pets, ownership is broadly dictated by who paid for the animal in the first place. However, with many people now choosing to buy puppies or kittens from registered breeders, it may be considered that the person named on the breeders’ paperwork (or on the Kennel Club paperwork) is the legal owner, regardless of who actually paid for the pet.

If there is no such paperwork, or if no payment was made for the animal (for example, if it was adopted, rehomed or found) other factors may also be considered, such as whether the pet is microchipped or insured. Generally speaking, the name on the microchip may be indicative of legal ownership if there is no other evidence to the contrary. In addition, the person named on any insurance may also be of relevance (for example, if you are named on the microchip and on the insurance, this could give a stronger indication of ownership). However, the insurance alone is not conclusive. As with vehicles, you can be named on the insurance but not be the legal owner and proof of ownership must therefore be provided separately.

What can you do to protect your pet upon separation or divorce?

Many people are now including provision for their pets in a pre-nuptial agreement; or the so called “pet-nup”. Following the 2010 Supreme Court decision which allowed pre or post nuptial agreements to be upheld in certain qualifying circumstances, there has been an upward trend in couples choosing to enter into these agreements to avoid costly litigation if the marriage were to end in divorce. Whilst the agreements were initially devised to cover the essentials, such as housing and the needs of any children, they have evolved and expanded to include a wider range of issues, and can now often cover provision for pets, including who will keep the pet after a separation.

However, if a pet-nup isn’t for you, you should still consider taking some basic steps to provide clarity over who owns your pet. For example, you should consider recording the ownership in a document, ideally at the time of purchase. Ask the breeder / seller to provide a receipt confirming who paid for the pet and record whether the purchase was for themselves, or a gift for someone else. If the animal is microchipped and insured, make sure that the name recorded on each document is the same, to avoid creating conflicting evidence. It may also be sensible to keep the bank statement or credit card statement showing the payment made for the pet, if applicable.

At New Leaf Solicitors, we are big animal lovers and we want to help you take care of your pets if your relationship breaks down. Call us today to discuss divorce, separation and your pets on

Daventry office – amytrevellick@newleafsolicitors.co.uk

Southampton office - kellybruton@newleafsolicitors.co.uk

Birmingham office - paulineorourke@newleafsolicitors.co.uk

Rugby office - francinebristo@newleafsolicitors.co.uk