What Happens to the Cat After a Divorce?

In the UK alone, there are an estimated 12 million cats kept as pets in 2022. It’s no surprise why felines are such a favoured pet for many. They provide many benefits to their human companions, such as calming anxiety and depression as well as combating loneliness.

Pets are often the first step for couples in a relationship before deciding they’re ready to have children, or perhaps even instead of a child entirely. Cats are relatively low maintenance compared to other popular pet choices, making them an ideal choice for couples looking for an extra addition to their family unit.

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But with millions of families enjoying the companionship of these furry friends, many cats end up in the middle of a divorce agreement. In these instances, when both partners have an equal love for the animal, who gets to keep the cat after a divorce?

The legality of a cat

Despite whether the cat is viewed as a ‘fur-baby’, the law does not view them in this way.

With divorce cases involving children, the court will make decisions with the child’s best interest in mind, taking into account a multitude of factors like their age as well as any mental or physical needs. For a cat, (or any type of pet), this is unfortunately not the case.

In the eyes of the law, a cat is viewed as an object; someone’s property, so when both parties express equal want for ownership of their beloved pet, the court has a variety of factors to consider when delegating legal ownership. Cats conform to most of the usual property laws when it comes to splitting matrimonial property, meaning they’re dealt with in a similar way to a shared car, or a piece of furniture.

Can you compromise?

If both parties have an equal desire to look after the family cat after a divorce, there is an opportunity for compromise. Similarly to sharing custody of a child, the decision can be made to share part-time ownership of the fluffy friend.

So, who gets the cat in an acrimonious split?

In divorce cases involving pets, the courts will most often look at how the animal entered the relationship in order to determine ownership.

For example, if one partner owned the cat prior to the marriage, the court is likely to grant them sole ownership. Comparably, if one partner bought the cat as a gift for the other, the recipient of the gift may be given ownership.

Families with children may see a different outcome. Understandably, children often gain a strong emotional connection with the family pet, and when dealing with their parent’s divorce, the court may deem it’s in the child’s best interest to have the cat reside with them, for both familiarity and emotional support.

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For cases involving multiple cats, the court may rule for all of the pets to remain together, but this is entirely circumstantial.

Other influencing factors

A pre-nuptial agreement (pre-nup) can be an influential factor when determining ownership of a cat. Prior to marriage, a pre-nup can be signed stating who retains certain assets in the event of divorce. If the ownership of the cat is set out within the pre-nup, this can heavily sway the decision. It’s important to note that pre-nups in the UK are only legally binding when certain criteria are met, but can still be a strong factor in the decision-making process.

In some cases, the court may allow both parties to express their feelings, wishes, wants and concerns regarding their feline friend. However, emotion and familiarity are not grounds for ownership, so other factors will have a larger impact on the final decision.

John Roberts is a Partner and Director of Austin Lafferty. John has been with the firm for almost 20 years, with experience in all areas of family law, including divorce and separation, adoption and contact.

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