‘Let’s get a dog!’
It’s a commonly heard exclamation in a relationship between two people, a sign of commitment to each other. Sometimes, getting a ‘fur baby’ is almost considered a trial run for having children.
But what happens to the much-loved dog, cat or budgie if the relationship unexpectedly breaks down? Under Australia’s Family Law Act, a pet is considered an item of property that cannot be shared in the way children from the relationship are, spending time with each parent.
For that reason, pets will be considered much as other items of property such as cars are in any decision by a court about where the animal will live – unless the matter is dealt with a binding agreement between the couple.
Dealing with pets in a binding financial agreement
A binding financial agreement (BFA) between a couple protects each party’s financial position after a relationship breakdown or separation but can also deal with what happens to pets. These agreements can be made before, during or even after a relationship breaks down.
Rather than have a family law court decide where the pet will live, a BFA can provide mutually agreed details on a sharing arrangement after separation, as well how costs of grooming, training, vet bills and insurance, for example, will be met.
By discussing these issues to include in an agreement, both parties can answer difficult questions about whether the pet should live with one half of the couple, be cared for jointly or not at all (rehomed, for example).
In order for this type of agreement to be ‘binding’, that is, legally enforceable between the parties, a number of steps must be followed in making one:
- The agreement must be signed by all parties;
- each party to the agreement must have received independent legal advice about both the advantages and disadvantages on their rights of the BFA;
- each party can provide a statement from a legal practitioner that such advice was given, either before or after the making of the agreement;
- a copy of the statement from the lawyer is also provided to the other party; and
- the agreement has not been terminated or set aside by a court.
What happens if you can’t agree?
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule when it comes to how courts will deal with pets in relationship break-ups. A number of factors need to be considered in determining where the pet should live, including who purchased the animal, whose name it is registered in and who pays insurance and other costs for it; and who primarily cares for it (feeding, grooming, etc).
If there are children from the union, their relationship with the pet may also be relevant as to where it should live in the event of the relationship ending. Ongoing financial commitments for the animal as well as the practicality of owning a pet in new living arrangements are other factors to consider.
Speak with expert family lawyers
The requirement to seek legal advice before entering a BFA means a person should consult with an experienced Central Cost Erina family lawyer so that they are clear about how to protect their rights and interests.
Issues that can be addressed in a BFA, including financial support of one half of the ex-couple by the other and how property – including pets – is dealt with in the agreement, can be clarified in a chat with one of the expert family lawyers at Felicio Law Firm.
Call us for an initial meeting today if you want to protect your pets in a relationship split.