Pet ownership and prices skyrocket during pandemic – what now for separating couples with pet ownership disputes?

The pandemic has seen a huge rise in the price of pedigree pets, following a surge in demand as people sought out the companionship and fun that owning a pet can bring.

There are now more pet owners than ever before, and as well as a valued and integral part of our families, pets have also become a more expensive asset.

Separating and divorcing couples pet ownership disputes

We are already seeing a rise in enquiries from separating or divorcing couples over who gets to keep the family pet, coinciding with the general trend of more people seeking advice about divorce and separation after lockdown.

The huge rise in (expensive) pet ownership is already featuring more prominently in divorces, with divorcing couples not only feeling the emotional pinch of separation from their pets, but also now with the increased pressure of higher value assets to negotiate over.

One example for a separated couple sharing custody of their pet is the North East’s own Ant McPartlin. Ant and his ex-wife have been sharing custody of their dog for a few years, with Hurley being spotted out and about with both “paw-rents” and recently on TV. Whilst details are understandably scarce, it is understood the parties agreed to share custody of Hurley so their divorce and division of finances could proceed more amicably.

Pet prices report shows prices peaked in January and will have now stabilised – a price drop is expected

Where the value of a pet has fluctuated, this may complicate matters in situations where divorcing couples are negotiating over whether one party takes ownership of a pet (in most cases the desirable option) versus recouping their initial financial investment (for those partners who don’t get to keep the pet). The question of value is an interesting one. Pets usually have far more emotional than monetary value but replacing the seemingly irreplaceable will inevitably come at a financial cost.

A report published last month by Pets4Homes suggested that pet prices peaked in January but have now stabilised at around twice their pre-pandemic value.

Now as demand stabilises, it looks likely that prices will drop.

Sadly, this will coincide with more and more family pets being taken to animal shelters as the novelty wears off, coupled with a return to more normal, pre-pandemic working arrangements, which in turn will have a knock on effect in the value of pets. 

“The sharp reversal of supply vs demand will inevitably lead to lower price levels than seen during the height of the pandemic and we believe that the drop in price of 16% witnessed for dogs so far is only the beginning of this trend” according to the report.

We’re co-habiting but not married – who gets the pet?

Co-habiting couples who are separating and wish to plan future arrangements for their pet should try to discuss and negotiate to decide on the future arrangements for their beloved pet. Usually, unless the animal was purchased as a gift to one party, the person who purchased the pet will assume ownership. The situation becomes more complicated if the pet was bought together. I would encourage unmarried couples to attend mediation to try to agree the ownership or arrangements for your pet. If you cannot agree and mediation is unsuccessful, you would have to refer to civil law. You could make a claim to the small claims court for a judge to make a decision about the future of your pet. The decision of a judge may not be the answer you desired. 

We’re divorcing – who gets the pet?

Today is the final day of annual Responsible Dog Ownership Month and this month has coincided with me receiving lots of enquiries about who gets to keep the cherished family pet when couples separate or divorce.

I recently wrote on this topic in my ‘Who gets the dog after we break up’ blog post, which covers pet status in UK law (all pets, not just dogs), what constitutes a family legal case involving a pet (ie where the family court may get involved) and where arrangements are best made between divorcing couples themselves – as well as some tips on avoiding disputes over family pet ownership.

If you are currently divorcing and would like legal advice on pet ownership disputes, you can contact me at carly.hope@silkfamilylaw.co.uk or on 01914957189 or 07912228906. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Main header image: Carly’s dog, Dalha. Also pictured: Carly with Dalha.