Divorced couples share custody of pets

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pet-custodyMORE divorced couples are going to war over their pets and organising custody agreements.

Experts say the trend is most common in separating partners without children and, as four-legged friends take on an increasingly important role in family life, guardianship after a break-up is more hotly contested.

Tindall Gask Bentley partner and family-law specialist Jane Miller said pets usually entered divorce negotiations when property agreements were being discussed.

These included one client who settled for $10,000 less from her ex-husband to keep the couple’s two dogs.

“People are reaching formal agreements that the pet may live with one person once a week and the other another week, or doing quite a big trade-off so they can keep a pet,” Ms Miller said.

“It’s usually something that’s done outside of court.”

Ms Miller said while there were instances in which litigation had been sought in the Family Court to decide who should own a pet, it was not common. “The court is normally frustrated with people bringing these matters up – they deal with child abuse and domestic violence, serious issues to tackle,” she said.

Australian Association of Relationship Counsellors SA president Krys Noah agreed more parting couples were drawing up their own custody arrangements for pets and it was an agonising topic for many. “There’s absolutely no doubt it’s happening; couples usually try to negotiate what I’d call visitation rights, like a child,” she said.

“I don’t think the relationship with pets has been as strong in the past and, even if a partner has a tendency to be violent, a woman in particular might choose to stay in that relationship to make sure the dog is OK.”

Ms Noah said it was more common for arguments to ensue over a dog and, if children were involved, the pets usually went wherever they did to help them cope with the split.

Farm animals kept on hobby farms had also been dragged into disputes, Ms Miller said.

At the Animal Welfare League, about 30 per cent of the 20,000 cats and dogs handed to the Wingfield shelter each year, including two-year-old kelpie Lava, are given away because a couple have split.

“It (a separation) often results in one or both people moving out of the home, and finding a rental property that allows pets can be hard,” the organisation’s animal care manager, Leanne Page, said.

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