Who takes Fido? – Dealing with Pets in a Family Law dispute

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  • Who takes Fido? – Dealing with Pets in a Family Law dispute
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Our pets hold a special place in the household. Most would consider them to be part the family, and some would treat them as if they were their own child.

But what happens to Fido in the event of a separation?

In the case of Grunseth & Wighton [2022] FedCFamC1A 132, Division 1 of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia acting in their appellate jurisdiction confirmed the court’s approach to the issue of who would keep the family dog (“Roxy”).

The difficulty in this case was that while it seemed that Roxy had been purchased for the de facto wife’s stepdaughter, and that the stepdaughter had an emotional attachment to Roxy, the de-facto wife had paid for Roxy and was the registered owner.

The de facto husband’s evidence was that Roxy had not been transferred into his daughter’s name because she was not 18. He sought an order that Roxy be transferred into his name.

Ultimately, the Court ordered that the de facto wife would retain Roxy (at [89]):

“With respect to the possession of Roxy, and doing the best we can on the evidence, the appellant should retain her. However, the order will provide for an adjustment of $800 to the respondent for the purchase price of Roxy, in the absence of Roxy being on the parties’ list of assets and liabilities and any evidence advanced by the parties as to Roxy’s current value. The respondent may in turn consider giving this sum of $800 to Ms T towards the purchase of another dog.”

 Regarding the Court’s approach to dealing with pets it was stated (at [63] – [65]):

 “As much as it will pain pet lovers, animals are property and are to be treated as such. Questions of attachment are not relevant and the Court is not, in effect, to undertake a parenting case in respect to them.

If the animals have significant value, they can be valued in the usual way. Of course, as with other assets, a party may have a particular reason for wishing to keep the animal, and that can simply be dealt with in the ordinary course.

It is more difficult in the case of a family pet of limited financial value. If the ownership is contested, there is much to be said for each party making a blind bid for the pet, with the highest offer accepted and taken into account in dividing the property.

If you have any questions regarding separation or a family law dispute, please contact our team today.

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