It is not uncommon in our practice as Brisbane Family Lawyers to be asked questions about what happens after separation to the family pet, usually a dog.
Sometimes our clients use words and phrases in relation to their pets that we more commonly associate with arrangements for children, such as custody or access to the family pet. It is also not uncommon for people to be surprised that there is no specific section in the Family Law Act dealing with the issue of who gets the family dog after separation.
So, who gets the dog?
The intensity of emotion and attachment to the family pet was illustrated by the case of Downey v Beale which was decided by the Federal Circuit Court in Parramatta in February 2017.
The husband and the wife managed to resolve all of the other financial issues between them by agreement, but they could not agree on who should keep the family dog and ultimately that issue was the only one that the Judge was asked to decide. As there is no specific section of the Family Law Act that deals with pets, the Judge had to decide the argument in the same way they would as if the argument was about a personal possession such as a car or a boat.
The husband could show that he had paid for the dog when it was originally acquired, but the wife could show that she had paid vet bills during the time that they had owned the dog and that the dog had lived with her both before and after separation. After considering the evidence and the arguments put forward the judge decided that the dog should stay with the wife and the dog was declared to be the property of the wife.
This case demonstrates the strength of our emotional ties to our pets. The husband paid $300 for the dog but between them, the two parties would have spent many times this amount on legal fees for their lawyers to argue this case at the court.
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