Who gets the pets? A guide to pet custody

Our pets are more than just animals; they’re integral members of our family. However, when it comes to de facto separation or divorce, the question of pet custody can add a unique layer of complexity to an already challenging situation. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the legal nuances of pet custody in matters of divorce and separation.


Factors Considered in Pet Custody Cases

Although we may know them as our ‘fur babies’, pets are actually considered property when it comes to world of family law. As such, all pets are handled in a similar way to any other property item, such as jewellery or a car. Outlined below are the financial and non-financial contributions of each party which are typically considered by the court in a pet custody matter:

1.     Primary caregiver
The court may consider which party has been primarily responsible for maintaining the health and wellbeing of the pet, such as feeding, grooming and veterinary care. This may also extend to which party trained the pet and ensured his Council registration and microchip.

2.     Adoption
The court will also look for information surrounding the adoption of the pet, and which party initiated the adoption or had greater involvement.

3.     Living arrangements
The living conditions of each party are considered to see if one party has a more suitable environment for the pet, such as a larger backyard for a dog to run around in.

4.     Financial capability
An assessment of both parties will be made to consider whether they are financially equipped to provide for the pet’s needs, including food, vet visits, worming, and overall wellbeing.

5.     Children’s attachment to the pet
If there are children involved, the emotional bond between the children and the family pet may be considered when determining custody arrangements.


Do I have to go to court?

Like any family law or property matter, couples are encouraged to resolve pet custody disputes on their own or through mediation, especially given the high costs associated with going to court. By working collaboratively with a mediator, couples can create a legally binding agreement that outlines each party’s rights and responsibilities regarding the pet. This approach provides a more amicable and less stressful way to navigate the matter, allowing both parties to have a say in the final decision. If and when an agreement is reached, it should be documented and made legally binding.


The ’Pup-nup’

Considering pet custody in a pre-nuptial agreement is a growing trend among couples who want to address potential issues before they arise. This legally binding document can outline specific arrangements for pet ownership in the event of a separation, providing clarity and preventing potential conflicts. For more information about prenuptial agreements (formally known as Binding Financial Agreements), read our blog here.

Practical Tips for Pet Custody Success
  • Communication
    Open and honest communication between both parties is crucial. Discussing concerns, preferences, and expectations regarding pet custody can facilitate finding a mutually agreeable solution.

  • Consider the pet’s best interests
    Prioritise the best interests of the pet when determining custody arrangements. Factors such as the pet’s attachment to family members, living conditions and routine should be taken into account.

  • Seek professional advice
    Consulting with a family lawyer can provide valuable insights and legal guidance tailored to your specific situation.

  • Document agreements in writing
    If an agreement is reached, ensure it is documented in writing and, if possible, legally binding. This can help prevent future disputes and provide clarity on each party’s responsibilities.


By prioritising the best interests of the pet and considering key factors, individuals can work towards a resolution that ensures the continued wellbeing and happiness of their beloved furry friends. Remember, each pet custody case is unique. Seeking professional advice can be instrumental in achieving a fair and satisfactory outcome for all parties involved (particularly the pet!).
For a free and non-obligational consultation, book here or call our office on 5996 1600.



Child looking at parents during a shared custody matter
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