Separating from your spouse may impact your family dynamic which may involve children or fur family members, such as the family dog or cat. 

Although we may treat our fur family members as a child, in the family law context, managing what will happen with the family pet is dealt with in the property context as they are considered ‘chattels’ for the purposes of a property settlement only. 

While this may sound like an insensitive approach to adopt when addressing the difficult task of deciding who the family pet will stay with, there is no legislation in place for the Courts or legal practitioners to follow when advising the options available for separated couples to follow. 

In saying so, there is no legal requirement to include your family pet in the property settlement process if there is no dispute in place. Often, the parties will decide from the onset what will happen with the family pet and there be no further mention of the care arrangements for the pet in the proceedings. 

However, it may be useful to consider any requirement of a change of registration for the family pet if s/he is moving to a new address. 

Some other helpful considerations when deciding what will happen with the family pet is looking at who has the capacity to home them i.e. if someone is retaining or remaining in the family home, are they best suited to care for the pet while you undergo the property settlement process.

Considerations must also be weighed on the impact the family pet has on a relationship with a child or children of the family. This can cause additional stress and anxiety to children if they are separated from their family pet. 

If you and your former spouse are unable to agree between yourselves, it may be useful to engage a lawyer to obtain some advice on the overall family law property settlement process and how a family pet will be involved in negotiating a successful outcome for you. In the event that the property settlement is unable to be resolved through negotiation, then the next helpful step is to attend a mediation to address the issues in the property settlement process. One of the issues may be the care for the pet post-separation or if required, if the pet will spend time with the other spouse through weekly activities such as walks to the local dog park or beach. 

The agreement reached through negotiation or through mediation is not legally binding until it forms part of a Court Order or Financial Agreement. 

If there is an agreement reached on the property settlement (including the pet), then the agreement can be formalised by way of an Application for Consent Orders. We discuss 7 things to know regarding Consent Orders in the article here.

If you and your former spouse have reached agreement on your property settlement (including care arrangements for the family pet), we offer fixed fee options for the preparation of an Application for Consent Orders. 

If the issue of the family pet remains in dispute, and you have exhausted all avenues to negotiate and/or mediate your property settlement, then the last option to take is to initiate proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. We highly recommend obtaining legal advice prior to filing Court documents with the Court.