Separating couples should ‘paws for thought’ before fighting over pets, charity pleads

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NFM says that conflict over the family pet features in more than 40% of mediation matters.

A national charity has urged couples who are going through a divorce or separation to ‘paws for thought’ before getting into conflict over the family pet.

The call to action comes on National Pet Day (April 11th) which encourages families across the country celebrate the joy that pets bring into their lives.

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While the event aims to focus on the positives of having a pet, according to NFM (National Family Mediation) many couples struggle to agree what will happen to the family dog, cat, rabbit or snake once they choose to go their separate ways.

Sarah Hawkins - NFM CEOSarah Hawkins - NFM CEO
Sarah Hawkins - NFM CEO

The charity says that the topic features in more than 40% of mediation matters that they deal with.

While the law sees pets as little more than a ‘chattel’ - meaning an owned item such as a car or piece of jewellery - many owners see them as an extension of the family, meaning they are understandably reluctant to cut ties once a relationship breaks down.

Sarah Hawkins, CEO of NFM, comments: “Pets are very much considered a part of the family, and so it’s understandable that they are also a real bone of contention for couples in conflict.

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“At NFM we deal with dozens of pet disputes monthly, as more families have included a pet in their household in recent years. In fact, over the last year pets have featured in 43% of mediation matters.

“However, the harsh reality is that the law views pets as assets, or possessions, which means that it will allocate an ‘owner’. That means that couples who take their fight over who gets the dog, cat, rabbit or snake to the courts following a breakup may find themselves heartbroken by the outcome.”

Sarah adds: “So many people now own pets, so it’s not surprising that we are seeing an increase in couples who are conflicted over what to do with them once they go their separate ways.

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“Court may not provide the answers that many people expect, and we would urge couples to consider alternative dispute resolution methods wherever possible.

“Mediation, for example, approaches the issue in a very similar way to other parenting plans. Rotas are discussed, to include availability and location, and finances also feature.

“The mediator will then help clients to come up with a fair plan that works for all and the main objective for us, ultimately, is to help couples to paws for thought before getting heated, and to try to resolve their issues amicably, outside of the court system, which can be incredibly costly and stressful.

“At NFM we have a success rate of 86%, so it’s clear that the non-legal route can really help to reduce the number of clients entering – or even re-entering - the court arena.”

National Family Mediation (NFM) is a charity which helps families and couples amicably sort out a variety of disputes, including children, property, finance and other important matters.