If the ongoing pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are a nation of dog lovers. Although many dogs have, more recently, unfortunately, been returned the number of dog owners in both Scotland and the U.K. as a whole has increased dramatically since February 2020. The costs of “designer” dogs increased three and fourfold between the end of 2019 and the middle of 2020.
As family lawyers, we are often asked who gets to keep the dog in the event of separation. The arrangements in relation to dogs or other family pets can be just as difficult to resolve as issues involving children and financial matters.
Dogs are not treated as matrimonial property and so are not divided in the way that household furniture might be. The value of a dog is also not relevant. It is often the case that one party is treated as the dog’s owner and the dog will often simply move with the individual.
Having said that, there are issues that can arise after a separation has taken place which may not have been considered at the time. For example, dogs can, of course, be fairly expensive to take care of, particularly now that many people are again working in offices, shops and elsewhere and may require the assistance of a dog walker. There is also the cost of pet insurance, vets’ bills and grooming which may not have been factored in upon separation.
In addition, the psychological impact on a dog is often underestimated. Since March 2020, dogs have been used to being at home with at least one adult on many occasions. With people gradually working from home less and less, dogs are being left at home more regularly, even if dog walkers are contracted. This is exacerbated if there is also separation. Although there is no claim for “contact” as such with a dog upon separation, the psychological impact of separation on a dog or other pet should be taken into account.
On some occasions it may simply be appropriate for the dog to stay in the family home with children but, in other situations, it may not be practical for that to happen. For example, it needs to be considered who can realistically take a dog out late at night for a walk if there are only babies or young children in the house who cannot be left alone.
On other occasions, the dog can spend time each week with each party. This is something that is worth considering, particularly if the dog is used to having both parties around on a regular basis.
Of course, in addition to the above, separation can result in the sale of the family home which can have further repercussions when there is a pet. A lot of private rented properties will not accept a pet and considering what is best for a dog or other pet when moving from, say, a house with a garden to a flat may require to be taken into account.
It is now much more common for couples, upon separation, to enter into a written agreement making particular arrangements between them in relation to dogs. Such arrangements can, of course, also be entered into with regard to other pets.
Remember that dogs, arguably more so than any other pets, are extremely loyal. Separation is an unsettling time for adults and children alike, but can also have an impact on dogs.
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