Animals and divorce

Partner and Head of family, Marilyn Bell explains various cases she has seen where animals have contributed a lighter tone to divorce proceedings.

It is surprising how often animals come up within divorce proceedings and I have often found, somewhat surprisingly, that that is one area that a separating couple can agree on. They might have fought over everything down to the knives and forks and the wedding china, but will agree to share the costs of the cattery if they are on holiday, or if the one with whom the cat is residing is on holiday.

In one case it formed part of the agreement that the dogs remain with the husband in Africa, but if he moved he would pay all of the costs of having them crated and flown to England to the wife.

I have been surprised to find that a husband and wife enmeshed in hostile Court proceedings have arranged that the husband will collect the dogs to look after whilst the wife is on holiday, has gone round, collected them, fed them, taken care of them with no problems, whereas at the same time the collection and arrangements for the children is fraught with difficulty.

What is it about animals that enables couple to reach agreement? Certainly animals don’t have their own voice and maybe that helps.

I have had dogs stolen from one party’s car in the swimming pool car park. After several letters between solicitors the dogs were returned unceremoniously by being put over the fence of the wife’s garden. She found them running around on the grass.

A lady phoned me once that she was very worried that her husband had been drinking and was driving the car and she was wondering whether she should call the police. I quickly ascertained that the children were not with him. However, her concern was that the dog was with him and she wanted the police to stop him before he had an accident, putting the dog at risk.

Older dogs can be a problem as their vet insurance will be very high, but again it is rarely an issue or a major dispute as to how these costs will be paid.

On occasion a dog has had to be fostered as the person who is the main carer of the dog (ie the one who takes it out for walks) has moved out of the matrimonial home into a flat and the landlord has a no pets rule. Fortunately, in this case the children were older as it can often be heart-breaking if changes have to be made in the arrangements for a pet for children.

Horses regularly feature. They are very expensive and much more controversial as to how their costs (often around £600 a month per horse) are going to be paid for. I have learned over the years to also enquire about the additional equipment that goes with horses and questions to ascertain if there is a horse box or expensive tack and other equipment, all of which needs to be considered as part of resolving matrimonial finances.

In another case, one person owned 1/8th of a racehorse and we had to consider the value of this horse, both in racing and potential future stud value for a flat racer.

I had one case when I returned from Court to a message that I should significantly reduce the value of a piano as my client’s sister had remembered that the hamster had escaped once and had been found having lived in the piano for several days and they thought he would have chewed through some of the strings.

Although this has been a lighter look at animals in divorce, it is good to know that often amidst the hostility and animosity of divorce proceedings animals can still contribute to a more amicable approach. 


If you would like more information or advice relating to this article or a Family law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Marilyn Bell on 01727 798066 or 07725 372256. 

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