In a relationship break-up there are the disputes often extend beyond the custody (living arrangements) of the children, property disputes and division of superannuation. The fate of family pets such as the family parrot, dog or cat often poses their own problems to both litigants and their lawyers.
Essentially the law treats pets as assets .If they are breeding animals then they essentially become a business asset. If they are companion animals they are treated as personal property – like photos and CDs. Whilst that sound harsh to animal lovers, it is the reality of how the Courts treat pets.
Having said that, the Courts often lean towards ‘access’ type orders to the family pet- but one can’t say this is the norm. In one case in which Stevie the parrot had been given as a gift to the son of a separating couple, the judge made orders leaving the parrot in the care of the wife who had ‘custody” of a child with special needs. The Court refused the father’s application for ‘access’ to the bird for the purposes of breeding. In another matter a notation was made allowing the family dog to accompany a child travelling between the residences of his separated parents, though this was more of a parenting order relating to the children than a ‘pet order’. Unlike chattels which are often divided between parties on a piece by piece approach, the Courts tend to be less ‘property’ orientated when there a pets involved, preferring not to split up pets which are attached to each other. Unlike chattels pets do have feelings! Perhaps the legislation needs to have a rethink about dumping pets into the property basket.
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