A broken home: what about the pets?

shutterstock_3753394(1)Earlier this year, Stats SA released the latest marriage and divorce statistics for 2014. Over 24,600 divorce forms were processed during that year, equating to a 3.4% increase in the divorce rate from the previous year.

What about the pets?

While no one gets married with the idea that they will one day divorce, many couples do sign an antenuptial contract with regard to their assets and other possessions – just in case. Christine Kuch, spokesperson for the National Council of SPCAs, believes that couples should also consider the welfare of pets in the event of a divorce. “Having vehicle or household insurance does not mean you plan to be burgled or have an accident, but it is a wise move,” she says. “Likewise, discussing provision for pets in the event of a divorce, relationship break-up or death is a wise move. Leaving things open to interpretation by friends, relatives or ex-partners is not ideal and puts an enormous burden upon loved ones.”

Dave and Michelle Baines* were part of the 2014 divorce stats when their marriage ended that year. They had to reach an agreement on what was best for their daughter and two dogs, Max, a German Shepherd, and Sophie, a Maltese cross. Dave took Max to Cape Town and Michelle kept Sophie.

“What I didn’t consider at the time was that Sophie was used to having Max around during the day while we were at work,” says Michelle. “She was so unhappy without him that it broke my heart. I think I was so focused on my own situation and emotional stress and how the divorce would affect my daughter that I forgot to consider Sophie’s needs.” 

Who gets the pets?

Arinda Truter, a junior associate at Schoeman Law Inc, says that in terms of South African law, animals are treated differently from human children. “Unfortunately, our animal children fall within the ambit of ‘movables’ and will need to be split either by agreement or by court order,” explains Arinda. “The parties will have to decide between themselves what happens to their pets.”

His or her pets There may not be a dispute, but a clear understanding of who owns the pet, possibly even prior to the marriage. Even if the pet was acquired during the marriage, one party may want the pet and the other party is happy with that decision.

Co-parenting Joint custody of the pets can work very well if you are both willing to put in effort with regard to the agreement. You will need to discuss finances, including food and healthcare, and how these will be shared. “An arrangement to share custody of the pets can be included in the divorce settlement agreement,” says Arinda.

* Can your pets pick up on conflict in your house? And what is in their best interest should your family split up? Find out in the September 2016 issue of Animaltalk.

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