Separated couples often can agree on how the house, cars, and joint accounts will be split between them, but often settlement comes unstuck right at the end over sentimental items, such as photos, dogs, or in one of our recent matters a toilet brush.
Family Law has difficulty with such property, as it focuses heavily on the dollar value of an asset or liability. A recent case that made its way through the Family Court System, had both parties arguing venomously over who the family dog would go to. Disagreement over the family pet comes up often, and according to the law such “companion animals” and considered “chattels” (Property). Therefore the Court treats them like any other piece of property.
As to how a court decides who gets the dog, looking at the recent case just mentioned as an example is helpful. In that case, the husband had bought the dog for the wife as a birthday present. The wife has picked the dog out, and she gave the court a bundle of documents showing that she paid for all the dog’s vet bills, food, and other similar expenses. In each of those documents the wife was clearly listed as the owner.
However, the legal owner according to the dog’s registration was the husband. In order to decide the case, the court looked to the Companion Animals Act which says that owners of dogs must register their dog’s ownership within 6 months of buying the dog. The husband actually registered the dog much later, 8 months after separation in fact. The Act also says that an owner of a dog is the person the dog lives with (which was the wife after separation).
Ultimately, due to the fact that the wife paid for all the bills associated with the dog, that the dog lived with her, and that the husband at the beginning of the relationship purchased the dog as a gift, the Court ordered that the husband transfer ownership of the dog to the wife.
Receiving the property you value most is a difficult thing to do, especially when our ex-partner knows how much the dog for example means to you. A Family Lawyer can help you with such property issues. Call Ruth Single or a member of our Family Law Team on 4324 7699 for a free confidential chat on the phone to discuss your options.