A Family Member Who Is Also Property: Pet Dogs and Divorce

Posted on: 19 June 2023

In most circumstances, nobody is going to dispute that your dog is a beloved member of your family. However, there's one scenario when your dog isn't necessarily regarded in those terms, and that's during a divorce. It may be shocking to learn that dogs (and indeed, all pets) are considered to be property under the law, and can be allocated to one party over the other during divorce. What's the best way to proceed when working out who keeps the family dog during a divorce?


In a best-case scenario, this matter can be amicably worked out. A solicitor specialising in family law can be your advocate during the mediation process, and ideally, all matters pertaining to the division of property can be worked out during this time. The process should, in theory, settle all matters regarding the division of property and assets (including pets), financial maintenance and custody arrangements for any children. What happens if ownership of the dog is challenged by either party?


It may sound dispassionate, but if ownership of the dog must be decided by the courts (with both parties unable to reach an agreement), several factors will be considered:

  • Who purchased the dog or paid the adoption fee (when the dog was obtained from an animal shelter)?
  • Was the dog intended to be a gift for either party?
  • Who paid for the dog's upkeep (veterinary bills, food and local council registration)?
  • In whose name is the dog registered with the local council?
  • Is either party the primary caregiver for the dog?

The answers to these questions can help to determine disputed dog ownership, yet are not the only points that will be considered. 

Animal Wellbeing

Although not applicable across the entire country, the sentience of animals is legally recognised in some jurisdictions. Even when not enshrined in law, the well-being of the animal is strongly considered when determining which party should take ownership of the dog. This covers factors such as who can provide a suitable home for the dog (in terms of available and appropriate space). If the dog was very much a family dog and was bonded to any children of the marriage, then dog ownership can be determined based on custody arrangements (so the dog remains with the children).

There's no guarantee that a divorce will be amicable, but for the welfare of the dog, it's best that both parties can be civil when determining ownership of the family dog. A family lawyer can assist you with this during the mediation process. 

For more info, contact a local family lawyer