Perth couples are seeking shared custody of their pet like they would a child in divorce proceedings, while some are going as far as including a beloved dog or cat in a prenuptial-style agreement before getting married.
While not a common request, Perth family lawyers say some couples include domestic animals in a Binding Financial Agreement — Australia’s equivalent of a “prenup” agreement — along with other property to ensure they keep the pet in the event of a divorce.
Cobalt Legal Family Lawyers principal Ella Hickman said as couples were taking longer on average to have children, people were increasingly turning their attention to the family pet and, when it came time for separation, argued extensively over custody rights.
“Especially in WA, there are a lot of fly-in, fly-out couples where one person is at home a lot with the pets, and at the time of separation when they’re trying to retain stability that’s what they’re trying to hold on to,” she said.
“A lot of people try to get shared custody arrangements like they would for children, but pets are treated as property in the Family Law Act and they can’t be split in half, they have to go to one person.
“There’s nothing to provide for that sort of arrangement in the Act.
“You wouldn’t want to be with a new partner and have your ex-partner come by and pick up the dog for the weekend.”
A report by Direct Line Pet Insurance in Britain found almost 30,000 divorce cases in British courts in the past year involved conflict over a pet — meaning judges were presiding over 90 animal custody disputes a day.
It also found worries about the fate of dogs, cats, horses, birds or other pets meant increasing numbers of couples on the brink of marriage were taking out “pet-nups” to make sure their partner did not try to take their beloved animal if they divorced.
Ms Hickman said that despite the lack of prenups and pet-nups in Australia, people could include a pet in their Binding Financial Agreement as they could any property.
“People spend obscene amounts of money on dogs and you get some people who want to list a pet as an asset in divorce proceedings,” she said.