How to create arrangements for your pets during your separation
Around 62% of Australian households have at least one pet. Dogs are the most popular, with almost half of Australian households owning a dog. Cats are next most popular followed by fish, birds, and horses, according to the HILDA Report 2021. It is very likely therefore that separation arrangements may need to take into account what will happen with family pets.
What does Australian Family law say about animals in a separation?
Our first instinct when we think about pets and separation is to think that the pet’s best interests should be paramount under the law, in the same way that children’s best interests are paramount. You might be surprised to learn that this is not so. In Australia the situation under current family law is that pets are considered property, just like your toaster and your tv. This means that legal decisions about pets will follow the same principles followed in relation to dividing property, rather than the principles relating to a pet’s best interests.
An exception may be where the best interests of a child might include having their pet with them and this might be a basis for a pet moving from house to house, with a child. Being separated from a pet might sometimes cause stress and make the process of separating feel more difficult. You can make the process smoother by following some of these helpful tips.
1. Discuss the circumstances with your former partner
Making sure you and your former partner are on the same page is important when dealing with a separation. The following questions provide a good starting point and can assist in deciding what to do with the family pet when you separate:
What is the ideal situation for the family pet? - How can we make sure the pet is comfortable and properly cared for in the situation we choose? - Who is best placed to look after the pet? - Is co-pet-parenting an option? - How can we compromise if we need to?
2. Give yourself time to think
It is important to give yourself time to think about important things when you are going through separation. It might help to keep the status quo for your pet whilst you decide what to do in the future. You can talk about the fact that this is to keep things simple whilst you reach a new agreement, and it doesn’t mean that you are giving up time with the pet in the future.
3. Create a routine and process for dealing with your pet
While it can feel good to vent, a coffee or a walk with a friend can be just as good. Looking for activities you can do with friends, rather than just sitting and talking can be a good idea to help you have conversations about things other than your separation. Similarly, if you need help with anything, such as cooking, day to day errands or picking up the kids, let your friends know. They may be delighted to have practical ways they can help you during this difficult time.
4. Consider the pets best interests
Focussing on the wellbeing of the pet now and in the future, who is best placed to give the pet the best care, who is the main carer of the pet and who is the financial provider of the pet are important things to consider when making your decisions. Making the decision to say goodbye to a pet is hard and is something that no one wants to do. Collaborating with your former partner to decide times you can visit your pet or arranging the occasional meet up might help ease the situation.
It can be hard for friendship groups involving couples to know how to stay friends with both of you. They may welcome some input, so speak to your partner about how you both want to manage this and consider communicating directly with shared friends, if and when you are up to it.
5. Turn your discussion into an agreement
Using amica allows you to divide your property and allows your decisions to be made into an agreement. amica offers property agreements where pets can be accounted for in the category of sentimental items.
amica is a smart and simple online tool to guide separating couples through parenting, property and money decisions in an amicable way. It was designed by family lawyers to help guide separating couples through the process in an accurate, calm and fair way. It uses artificial intelligence which takes into account the length of the relationship, assets and earnings, age and health needs, contributions to the relationship, arrangements for taking care of children and future needs. It makes practical suggestions for parenting arrangements that suit your family situation. At the end of the process you can download a document that sets out what you’ve agreed.
Go to amica.gov.au