Who gets the dog? Separation and pets in Australia

So you’ve decided to separate and you’re wondering how to divide your shared assets and go about parenting arrangements when you go your separate ways. But where do your pets fit into this equation? 

Although many of us consider our pets our ‘fur babies’, pets are considered property in Australia and are not dealt with in the same nature as children, when separating. They are considered as part of the property settlement when separation occurs, and it generally boils down to the question of ‘Well, who owns the pets?’

The Family Law Act hasn’t (yet) distinguished pets from property and will consider pets in the same way they might consider the family car: 

  • Who purchased the pet? 
  • Who cares for it? 
  • Who feeds it?
  • Who pays for the insurance? 
  • Whose name is it registered in? 

All of these factors help determine the overall ‘ownership’ of the item of property in question, and will ultimately help you decide if keeping the pet independently is something you can commit to either jointly, solo, or not at all.

Happy golden retriever who gets the dog.

So, who gets the dog? What are my options?

With a lot of couples opting to have ‘fur babies’ over human babies, this can lead to a variety of issues for pet owners when their relationship is on the rocks. If you can start the conversation early, the outcome will likely be less stressful for everyone involved. You could also consider:

  • 1. Ensuring that your pets are legally registered in your name;
  • 2. Ensuring that you have contributed to the purchase price of the pet; and/or
  • 3. Having the insurance policy in your name.

If you’d like to consider more formal arrangements, there is another option:

  • 4. ‘the pup-nup.’ You could enter into an informal co-parenting agreement and/or a binding financial agreement for your pets.

Include your pets in your BFA

Some couples may choose to pre-determine their financial position at separation in what is known as a Binding Financial Agreement (‘BFA’). This gives you a clear outline about exactly what’s going to happen to your assets. There is nothing stopping you from including your pets in these prenuptial, postnuptial or de facto financial agreements!

You can outline how you might share the ‘asset’ in the event of a separation, if you choose to, along with ways you might meet particular costs such as grooming, training, vet bills, insurance, etc.


What happens if we can’t seem to agree on anything?

It might be surprising to know that currently, the Courts aren’t guided by legislation when addressing the living arrangements for your pets in terms of ‘their best interests’, despite there being some calls to introduce it. So, in the absence of a formal agreement, you’ll need to consider what makes sense for you and your pets. 

Some things to think about:

  • Do you both want to remain involved?
  • If you have human children, what might be in their best interests in terms of arrangements for your pets?
  • Will you have new living arrangements, and are they suitable for your pet? 
  • How will you make important decisions about your pet if it were to become ill or injured?
  • What financial commitments are involved? 

Unfortunately, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to pet custody arrangements. At the end of the day, only you know what is best for your pets. If it turns out that neither of you can keep the pet or can’t come to an agreement for whatever reason, you might need to consider the effect of rehoming or surrendering them. 


How will this work with my kids?

If you’re seeking parenting orders as well as a financial settlement, you might consider how the pets interact with the children. Does it make sense for one of you to keep the pets with the children, and conduct a handover with them present? Do your pets follow your kids if they spend time with the other parent? 

This might be particularly helpful if you or your children are experiencing separation anxiety or live with a disability as there might be a particularly strong emotional attachment to the pet. In this instance, it would make sense for you to share responsibility, so that everyone benefits from the presence of the pet.

Young girl laughing with happiness next to pet dog custody.


Is there anything special about dogs in a separation?

Because dogs are such a big part of family life, we often get specific questions relating to dogs and separation.

When is a dog legally yours?

As we mentioned above, The Family Law Act doesn’t distinguish pets from property, and this includes dogs. So the courts will look at dogs in the same way they’d look at all other pets (and property) when determining who legally owns the dog.

How to get custody of a dog

Dogs are often a well-loved part of a family. So it’s natural to think of them in terms of ‘custody’ when you’re in the midst of a separation. However, there are generally no legal custody arrangements when it comes to dogs or any pets. Family law would instead consider them property and, as such, give their ownership to either yourself or your partner.

However, you can certainly privately agree on custody arrangements with your ex-partner, either through a pup-nup or a post-separation agreement. It’s a great way to ensure that you keep your relationship with your loved pet.

Who gets the dog in a breakup?

There’s really no difference between a break-up and a divorce when it comes to who gets your dog, or any pets. The family law system will still consider the pet part of the shared property. So when determining who gets the dog, they would look at the factors of who purchased the pet, whose name it’s registered in, who feeds it, and the like.


Our team is here to help

While we can’t make the final decision on who gets the dog for you, we can certainly help outline your options and ensure a secure future for you and your pets. 

We can help you find out what you might be entitled to and how to make a legal arrangement regarding your pets.

Request a call back from our friendly team via the form below, or call us directly.

Do you have a question about family law or relationship law?

Call now 03 9088 3184

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