What Happens to Pets in Divorce

Posted on: 7 mins read
Last updated:
Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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The coronavirus pandemic saw an uptake in family pets, especially dogs, with a total of 3.2 million households across the UK having acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA).

That means the country now has 17 million pet-owning homes with young people seeming to be the main drivers of this trend, with more than half of new owners aged 16 to 34, the PFMA says. A total of 59% of new pet owners are aged 35 years old and under.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also seen an increase in divorce at the same time which might leave you asking the question, who keeps the family pet in a divorce?

Are Pets Considered Assets in Divorce?

Pets are considered to be property by the English and Welsh Courts, so they will be treated the same as items such as furniture when it comes to your divorce settlement.

This means that you essentially have some form of legal protection and recourse if your pet is stolen or wilfully hurt. However, it can mean that determining who gets to keep ownership of your pet during a divorce can sometimes perhaps feel cold or unloving as they will essentially be treated the same as items that you own.

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Who Gets the Pets in Divorce?

As pets are treated as assets, the Court will apply the usual section 25 factors it applies to the family home to determine who should be the pet’s rightful owner. Other factors include:

  • The main carer of the pet
  • The age of you and your former partner
  • Yours and your partner's finances
  • Whether the pet is used to help with a disability
  • Who pays for the vet and food bills
  • Who purchased the pet
  • Who is registered with the vet
  • Whether there is a ‘Pet Nup’
  • The name on the microchip

A ‘Pet Nup’ is the pet equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement, but with pet welfare at its heart. While many couples put agreements in place to protect their assets, the Blue Cross is now encouraging pet owners to think about their beloved pets in the event of a separation or a divorce.

Signing up to this specially created document to plan for your pets’ futures can help avoid heartache should your relationship come to an end.

There are some parts of the agreement that a court will not enforce, such as lifestyle choices like who takes the dog on holiday or how the cat should be cared for, but deciding these details between you could still help to take the conflict out of a difficult and emotional break-up situation.

Additionally, the Court won’t help you decide the contact arrangements for the pet like it would for children. You and your former partner will have to negotiate this outside of Court.

Sadly, the Blue Cross estimates that every week, four pets are taken in by the Blue Cross following relationships breaking down. Dogs and cats are the most fought over pets, followed by horses, rabbits and guinea pigs. 

Their research has found that when couples split up in the UK it is usually the wife or girlfriend who keeps the pet with this happening in 56% of cases, whereas just under a third of men retain full ownership at 29%. For those who couldn’t decide who should keep the pet, 15% decided to give them to a family friend, 12% to family members and 6% to pet charities such as Blue Cross. 

Due to this, we’ve outlined some tips for how to deal with your pets when you and your former partner are going through a divorce to hopefully make the process easier for you both and your pets.

What to Do with Your Pets in Divorce

1. Put Their Needs First

First, it’s important that you consider the needs of your pet and what is in their best interests. Your pet’s wellbeing should be the main focus of any future agreement.

For example, you should consider whether you have the space, capacity, flexibility, time and resources to care for your pet before making the custody arrangements.

2. Make Pet Arrangements with Your Ex

You should attempt to agree with your ex who should have custody of your pet, or if you’re going to share custody what the pet arrangements should be.

You could come up with a schedule setting out when you each have contact with your pet, much like a parenting plan for children.

If you reach an agreement, you can either incorporate it in a Financial Consent Order if you’re getting a divorce or in a Separation Agreement if you’re not married.

A Financial Consent Order can refer to a lot of different orders which are available during a divorce. The ones most suited to you will depend entirely on your individual circumstances. Some of the most common types of Financial Orders in divorce include:

3. Try Mediation

If you cannot agree the arrangements between you, you could try instructing a mediator to help you reach an agreement.

Professional family mediators help you work out what happens after you split up. They won’t try to get you and your former partner back together. They can also help when you’ve been separated a while and need to sort something out.

A mediator will listen to you and your former partner explain your concerns and views to each other and will help you both to reach an agreement. Mediation works by helping people find practical solutions that feel fair for everyone.

Family mediators are specifically trained to work with people whose relationships have broken down. They come from professional backgrounds, such as law and healthcare. Mediators find solutions that both of you can agree on. A mediator will ask questions to understand your situation. Unlike going to court, you stay in control. No one can make you do anything against your wishes. All discussions in mediation are completely confidential.

Mediation can have many benefits including:

  • Giving you more say about what happens. In Court, a Judge will make the decisions but with mediation, you and your former partner make the decisions
  • It is usually less stressful with less conflict between you and your partner. It can help to find ways for everyone involved to get on better in the future
  • It can improve communication and help you to sort out your future
  • Agreements made in mediation can be reviewed and changed if you both agree. For example, if your situation changes or someone’s needs change as time goes on
  • It is quicker, cheaper and provides a better way to sort out disagreements when compared to long and drawn-out court battles which could help you to move forward with the rest of your life as quickly as possible.

4. Get a Pet Nup

We know how hard it can be if you’re arguing over your beloved pets in divorce, but you can avoid these kinds of arguments beforehand with a Pet Nup. It will almost definitely be better to address what will happen to your pets in separation before you separate, while there is no animosity clouding your judgment.

You can record the terms of ownership, custody and other arrangements for your pet in your ‘Pet Nup’ or you could incorporate arrangements for your pet in a more standard pre or postnuptial agreement.

'Pet Nups' and pre or post-nups are not legally binding in England and Wales but the Court will be guided by an agreement that has been properly entered into and it will be a major consideration for the Court in making its final decision if you divorce.

Get in Touch

For advice on pets in divorce or for advice on including your pets in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, just get in touch with our Family Law Solicitors for expert legal advice.

Everyone’s situation is different and there’s not one size that fits all, which is why we recommend getting legal advice from a Divorce Solicitor who can advise you based on your situation.

Whatever your situation is we can help you to find the best way of amicably bringing your relationship to an end while protecting your finances and assets for the rest of your life. Our expert legal advice will always be personal and tailored to you.

We offer a variety of options for appointments including telephone and video calls - whatever suits you best. We’re here to support you and make the process as easy as possible for you. You will be fully supported throughout the divorce process and we will deal with your former partner or their Divorce Solicitor and the Court. This takes the pressure off you, so that you can take care of yourself and your family.

To contact one of our expert Divorce Solicitors, please call our friendly and helpful team today on 0808 239 3465 who will be more than happy to help. Alternatively, you can request a call back.


UK Government. (n.d.). Family Mediation Leaflet. [Online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5a800f33ed915d74e33f834d/family-mediation-leaflet.pdf (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Simpson Millar LLP. (2019). What Is a Financial Order in Divorce? [Online] Available at: https://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/family-law-solicitors/divorce/what-is-a-financial-order-in-divorce-uk/. (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Blue Cross. (n.d.). Pet Nup. [Online] Available at: https://bluecross.org.uk/pet-nup (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Pets4Homes. (n.d.). Your Pets and the Law. [Online] Available at: https://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/your-pets-and-the-law.html (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

UK Pet Food Manufacturers' Association. (n.d.). [Homepage]. [Online] Available at: https://www.ukpetfood.org/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

BBC News. (2021). Pet food prices to rise as inflation hits industry. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56362987 (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Simpson Millar LLP. (n.d.). Pre-nup & Post-nup Agreements. [Online] Available at: https://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/family-law-solicitors/pre-nup-post-nup-agreements/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Simpson Millar LLP. (n.d.). Pension Sharing Orders in Divorce Explained. [Online] Available at: https://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/family-law-solicitors/finances-in-divorce/pensions-in-divorce-solicitors/pension-sharing-orders-in-divorce-explained/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Simpson Millar LLP. (n.d.). What Is a Consent Order in Divorce? [Online] Available at: https://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/family-law-solicitors/divorce/what-is-a-consent-order-in-divorce-uk/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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