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Dealing with the family pet a growing issue for many Australian couples facing separation

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Media Release

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Nearly one-in-five Australians believe custody over the family pet would be a major issue at separation and one-in 12 have actually lost a pet in a relationship breakdown, according to new research.

Slater and Gordon commissioned an independent survey of more than 1000 Australian adults which also found many falsely believed the Family Court would make shared custody arrangements for pets.

Senior Slater and Gordon family lawyer Heather McKinnon said the fate of the family pet was increasingly becoming a sticking point during negotiations following relationship breakdowns.

“We are increasingly seeing pets being raised as an issue in separation and this is reflected in our research which indicates nearly one in 10 Australians have lost possession of a pet in a relationship breakdown,” Ms McKinnon said.

Pets ranked behind real estate and money but ahead of vehicles, boats and household furniture when survey respondents were asked to rank which jointly-owned assets would be most difficult to divide following a separation.

“People often feel that pets are like children, but to a court they are generally treated as property.”

Key findings of the survey include:

  • 8 per cent of respondents had lost  a pet in a separation
  •  Those who had given up possession of a pet tended to be males, middle income earners and those with dependent children
  • 18 per cent of respondents in a relationship with a shared pet believed there would be a dispute over who kept the pet in the event of a separation (76 per cent said it would not be an issue and 8 per cent were unsure)

The survey also found 18 per cent mistakenly believed the Family Court would make shared custody arrangements for their pets, with only 34 per cent correctly identifying that the court does not generally make these types of arrangements.

Ms McKinnon said the results showed that people did not realise the court generally treated pets differently to children or other dependants.

 “That means the court doesn’t dictate visiting rights or define who is entitled to make medical decisions on behalf of a particular pet,” she said.

 “Our advice is that mediation is the best place to work through these issues. Mediation is less formal than a court hearing and gives people a real opportunity to amicably come to an arrangement they are both happy with.”

Of the survey respondents, 57 per cent were in a live-in relationship with their partner and 61 per cent of those respondents jointly owned a pet with their partner.