When two parties legally separate or divorce, they can agree to a property settlement, which divides their assets and liabilities. The property settlement time limit is one year from the official divorce date or two years from the separation date for de facto couples. The property settlement process can be completed, with or without the assistance of the court. 

What Counts As Property? 

The term ‘property’ is legal terminology to describe something personal and real. Personal property includes material or tangible things, while real property includes land and structures on the land. What does the law classify as property? Almost anything considered of value falls into the property pool, which includes: 

  • Properties, whether owned independently or jointly
  • Business and trust interests
  • Jewellery
  • Superannuation
  • Vehicles
  • Money
  • Animals
  • Assets 

Property settlements aren’t limited to property or money acquired during the relationship. If it was owned prior to or after the separation, then it can be included in the settlement. Likewise, liabilities are divided between parties. Whether these are independent or joint, including debts, taxes, loans, and stamp duty obligations. 

Who Gets Custody of Pets After a Divorce? 

Your pets do count as property, and it may fall to the Family Court to determine who takes custody. When you start the property settlement process, keep in mind what is best for both your family and your pet. With over 60% of Australian homes housing pets, it’s a more common situation than you may realise. 

Under The Family Law Act 1975, pets are classed as personal property. So, there is no specific provision on how custody is determined in property settlement cases. Therefore, the typical principles of the property settlement process are applied. You value your pet on an emotional level. But in property settlement terms, they are not viewed as significant assets. Unless, of course, they have a monetary value. Such as livestock, show animals, or pedigree pets. If a pet does not fall under any of these categories, then the standard market value will be applied. 

How will the court deal with a pet custody dispute? The preferred approach is for the separating couple to come to an agreement together. However, if a separating couple cannot agree on who should get custody of the pet(s), the court will. The court will take several factors into account. 

  • Which party purchased the pet and for what purpose.
  • Whose name is listed as the pet’s registered owner?
  • Who is in possession of the pet currently? Whom the pet resided with prior to, during, and after the separation.
  • Is one party better placed to house the pet in terms of suitable residences?
  • Whether the pet serves as a service animal to one party
  • Which party made more financial contributions to the care of the pet, whether grooming, insurance, food, or veterinary costs
  • Which party made more non-financial contributions to the care of the pet, whether feeding, exercises, grooming, or cleaning up 

If there are children involved, their emotional attachment to a pet may also be considered. For example, the court may decide that the pet’s primary residence is that of the children or the pet will move between homes the same way the children do. The court will try to resolve a dispute in the best way possible to prevent further proceedings. 

The Court Decision 

In a recent case in Brisbane, a husband applied to the court for an interim order of sharing dog custody. The dog had remained in the wife’s care after their separation. He petitioned the court for access. His claim was that he had experienced suffering and separation anxiety as a result of being unable to see the dog. He had tried to create a custody agreement and tried to visit the dog several times. But he had been refused access. The wife was the registered purchaser and owner of the dog. The husband claimed he had made financial contributions toward food, supplies, and vet visits. The wife moved to adjust their property interests and retain custody of the dog in their property settlement. The court dismissed the husband’s application as they did not believe he had jurisdiction over shared pet custody. 

Again, as animals are classed as property, their custody is not dealt with in the way it is for children. The court sees these matters as black and white and does not generally consider emotional ties. If you purchased and registered a pet under your name, then it is more than likely you will retain custody of a said pet in a property settlement. However, much like every other piece of property you own, a monetary value will be assigned to the pet and factored into your settlement just as a couch or television might be. 

When To Seek Legal Help 

AJB Stevens can provide you with mediation or negotiation assistance. Our team can help address the living arrangements or ownership of a pet you own with a former partner. We understand the emotional ties of pets in a way the court cannot. We encourage both parties to come to the table to negotiate appropriately. It is more cost-efficient and timely. Coming to an agreement without the court provides you with more flexibility to find a solution that works for everyone. If you want to share custody, we can help you decide how to deal with hand-overs, schedules, and expenses. These are similar to parenting orders, but you won’t find this option in a court of law. 

If you need family law property settlement advice, AJB Stevens can help. The sooner you address property settlement after separation, the better. Aside from the time limit in which you have to handle divorce property settlement, the sooner your financial ties are severed the sooner you can heal from your breakup. Likewise, the property you invest in or purchase following your separation, but prior to your divorce, will be counted in as property pool. So, there is a period in which you cannot move on until your divorce property settlement is agreed upon.