It is not uncommon for people to refer to their pets (sometimes called ‘fur-babies’) as children.
Many couples, especially those without children, view themselves as their pets’ parents. In many ways this is logical… similarly to children, pets require care and supervision – we send them off to puppy pre-school and pet-sitters.
It may then come as a surprise to discover that the Family Court has no jurisdiction to make orders regarding where an animal lives or who has access to visit them. Instead pets are viewed as ‘personal property’ by the Court. This means the Court can determine who the owner is but can’t do much more.
There have been limited instances where the Court has ordered that a pet be moved between houses of the parties. This has occurred in children’s matters where the Court decides that it is in the best interests of the child for the pet to accompany them. Such orders should not be mistaken for a custody arrangement for the pet.
The fact that pets can only be dealt with as property has been emphasised in a recent case. The family pet, a dog, was purchased by the Husband as a gift for the Wife prior to their marriage. The dog resided with the Wife and her family until the wedding, and the Wife had significant records of the expenses outlaid by her relating to the upkeep of the dog.
The Court issued a declaration that the dog was the personal property of the Wife despite the fact that the Husband had paid for the dog and was the registered owner. The Court determined that the fact that the Husband was the registered owner should not be given much weight as registration took place 8 months after the separation.
There was a time when slaves, women, and children were considered property. Perhaps the time will come where companion animals will also be considered more than property in the eyes of the Court.