Animals are “property” under the law, and as such they have “owners”. Animals do not have any rights themselves, but instead the civil courts will consider damage to an “owned” animal as harm to the “owner”. We are mindful that this is not the language that many of our clients would choose to use, nor how they view animals, but it is the current reality for animals under the law. Due to this status, ownership disputes over an animal, most likely a companion animal, can arise.
Whilst to you it might be obvious the animal is yours, it might not be quite as obvious for the court. A client of ours who found themselves in court, arguing over the ownership of a rescue dog, has put together some top tips they wish they had followed to avoid court and what to do if you find yourself in the court process.
Make sure the primary carer/intended owner is listed on the adoption form/paperwork and the microchip.
If any money is exchanged for the animal, ensure that it’s clear who paid it from the outset and if it’s split or one person is transferring on behalf of both, this is recorded in writing between the two parties.
Create an ‘intended ownership agreement’ or ‘well-being plan’ between the two parties at the time of getting the animal, which states who will be looking after the animal, any specific requirements for the animal (eg. must remain with its companion, have certain medication or behavioural support), so it’s easier to decide where the animal stays if there is a split/change of circumstance. It also allows the decision to be made while on good terms and based on the animal's welfare, rather than being used ‘as an emotional weapon’ as part of a domestic split.
If an amicable agreement cannot be made for the animal on separation, seek independent mediation, perhaps from a animal behaviourist, who can consider the circumstances and what is best for the animal.
If the issue cannot be resolved amicably between the two parties speak to Advocates for Animals (AfA) for legal advice on the potential benefits and risks with court action. There are risks attached to taking your animal ownership dispute via the civil court, which AfA will explain and share with you. AfA will always act fairly for all parties involved, including the animal, which should be both parties' priority, but often overseen in the mists of a domestic dispute. You can find out more about bringing a civil claim here.
How can we help?
If you want any advice on an ownership dispute or how to avoid one, Advocates for Animals has specific expertise to help our clients make the best use of the law to help animals.
This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact email@example.com.