Divorce & Separation

Separation: Would you consider your pet in the asset pool?

Separation: Would you consider your pet in the asset pool?

Author: Lara Wentworth, Partner and Head of Family Law & Wills & Estate Planning

When a separation takes place, the parties involved must consider all financial and non-financial issues, among them, the pet dog.

The dog I hear you say? Yes, that is correct. The recent case of Downey & Beale Beale [2017] FCCA 316 involving a dispute over the ownership of a beloved dog was held before the Federal Circuit Court. The Applicant Wife and the Respondent Husband in dispute, had no troubles in reaching a swift agreement with respect to all financial issues and the majority of  property settlement. However, there was one “item of property” remaining in the asset pool to be allocated, namely the pet dog.
The court considered the dog to be “property”, specifically “personal property”, and the orders made by consent were that  “…each party will be entitled to retain all other items, chattels, superannuation, jewellery, and personalty in their names and possession”.
The law defines the way in which this case was to be determined. The dog was considered to be an item of property and so the Court needed to determine who the rightful owner was to be.
The Court considered a number of factors such as: Who purchased the dog? Who contributed to the costs of the dog? Who the dog lived with prior, during and post marriage? Whose name was on documents relating to the dog? And, if the dog was registered, under whose name?
The Wife’s argument was that she had shown the Husband the dog when it was a puppy for sale. The Husband offered to purchase the puppy as an early birthday gift. The Wife produced bank statements evidencing payments made for the puppy, in addition to documentation from the vet, listing her as the owner. Further, the dog stayed with the Wife post separation.
Although the Husband was able to prove the purchase of the dog, arguing that it was a gift, he lacked further evidence like the Wife. The Husband lacked proof of contribution made to the dog for the duration of the relationship. The Husband produced registration papers, which listed himself as the owner of the dog. Nonetheless, this had only been done 8 months post separation, which at the time the dog was staying with the Wife.
Ultimately, the Court held that the Wife should reserve the possession and rightful ownership of the dog.
This is a classic example of how property proceedings can pan out. It is not always property of monetary value that takes centre stage in the dispute, but often the ones deemed valuable by each party involved.  Like in this case, personal property of sentimental or emotional value can impact the swiftness of parties reaching an agreement, as well as the legal fees involved.
Veritas Law Firm speciaslise in separation, divorce and property settlement. Our experienced family Lawyers take the time to understand our clients’ needs so that we can arrive at the best possible outcome for them. If you are considering a separation, you should know where you stand! Contact one of our friendly team members today on 131 LAW (529) or email enquiries@veritaslawfirm.co 


Veritas Law Firm produced this article. It is intended to provide general information in summary form on legal topics, current at the time of first publication.  The contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular matters.