When a couple with a beloved pet separates, it can become complicated when it comes to the dog...
The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 defines how relationship property of de facto, married or civil union partners is divided when a relationship ends. Relationship property includes household pets like the family dog.
Pets have the unique status of being the only living type of property classified as a ‘family chattel’. This means they are subject to the rule of equal sharing, to be technically equally “divided” on separation.
In the event of a break up, who keeps the pet?
This depends if the couple is able to agree on a care arrangement for the pet, or if the matter goes through mediation or the Family Court. In the event of a separation a pet may be looked after under joint custody, or one person may take sole custody of the pet.
It can be a good idea to agree on an arrangement early in a relationship so you both have an understanding of who will take care of the pet, if the relationship ends. This should be written in a contracting out agreement to avoid disputes later down the track. The contracting out agreement should cover all separate and relationship property you or your spouse or partner may own.
In the event of a separation where couples are unable to agree on the care for their pet, the welfare of the pet is the primary consideration, even though they are classed as property. If there is no agreement in place and you cannot agree on who your dog will live with, you may need to go through a mediation process. If mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is to go to the Family Court.
How can I make sure that my pet comes with me if my partner and I separate?
A couple can use a contracting out agreement to share their relationship property differently than is set out in the Property (Relationships) Act.
Contracting out agreements can be made at any time, but it is important that they are made before the relationship has lasted three years as at that time entitlements will change.
Sometimes if a pet is valuable, or has the potential to generate income through showing or breeding, valuation issues can arise. In this case, pets may be excluded as a family chattel, and redefined as an earning potential chattel.
Our Family Law team are here to help with any relationship property concerns and can guide you through creating the right contracting out agreement for you, your partner and your pet. You can contact the team by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (06) 768-3700.
Richard joined Govett Quilliam in July 2021 as an Associate in the Family Law Team. Richard is based in our New Plymouth office and works closely alongside Partner Alex Laurenson.
Richard studied law at the University of Otago. Since graduating in 2014, Richard has been practising almost exclusively in family law. Richard has extensive experience in relationship property, estate litigation, care of children, guardianship, Oranga Tamariki and family violence matters.
Richard’s broad experience in family law enables him to provide pragmatic advice to clients dealing with issues “from the cradle to the grave”. Richard appears frequently before the Family Court. Prior to working at Govett Quilliam, Richard worked in a large family law team in Auckland.