Dog Custody, Ownership and Access Disputes

Dog ownership disputes are becoming increasingly common. Due to the nature of this kind of dispute, emotions can be highly charged. The most common situation where pet ownership is called into question is when a couple is in the process of separating, or have already separated, and there is an argument over who gets the dog.

Specialists in Dog Law | Tel: 01304 755 557

Dog custody disputes can also occur between uninvolved individuals who are attempting to claim ownership of the same animal.

Please do not delay in getting specialist advice from us in this kind of case as any delay may be held against you if the matter proceeds to Court.

We have over twenty years of experience dealing with Doglaw and are here to offer advice and support. We can provide a reduced cost fixed fee telephone consultation for only £60 for up to 20 minutes. To book an appointment please call us on 01304 755 557 during normal office hours. Same-day appointments are sometimes available.

We can advise and represent you whether you are bringing or defending a claim.

Please be aware that the information on this page relates to laws in England and Wales only and does not constitute legal advice. For guidance on your specific situation, please refer to the ‘How we can help you’ section of our website.

Who Determines Who Gets The Dog?

A dog is regarded within the legal system as a ‘chattel’. Essentially, they are viewed as an item that is owned a bit like a car or an item of furniture!

We fully appreciate that to its owner a dog is more likely to be regarded as a much-loved member of the family but do not assume that this will be how it is viewed by the Court. During a dog ownership dispute, a Court will determine who the owner is.

These types of ‘tug of love’ cases are usually heard in the Small Claims Court and an application can be made for declaration of ownership under the Torts (Interference With Goods) Act 1977.

The following may also be ordered:

  • An order for the return of the dog
  • An order for damages for wrongful retention of the dog
Dog custody Mediation

Not every dispute will require judgment from a District Judge in a Small Claims Court. Sometimes, a case can be concluded via mediation.

This involves a third party who will attempt to help those involved agree to a settlement.

Dog Ownership Small Claims Court Results

In a situation where a Small Claims Court is involved, the District Judge has the power to determine who is the dog’s sole owner and they then may direct that this person has sole possession.

However, a Court is not bound to require that the owner have possession of a dog as this is a discretionary remedy. In particular, the Court may have regard to the conduct of the parties (“he who comes to equity must come with clean hands”) and consider any delay there may have been (“delay defeats equity”).

If  the Court rules that the dog is jointly owned, the Court may order that:-

  • possession of the dog be shared, or
  • one party has the dog (although there are no legal rules on how this should be determined), or
  • (in theory) that the disputing parties sell the dog and share the proceeds.
What Determines Ownership of a Dog?

There is no one single piece of evidence that conclusively proves who owns a dog. A Small Claims Court will consider a variety of information when determining pet ownership and a District Judge is entitled to give such weight to this evidence as they deem fit.

These include written and oral evidence on:

  • (If it’s a tug of love kind of case) Was the dog bought prior to the relationship or during the course of the relationship (and if the latter, were you living together at the time). If the parties were living together at the time of purchase and it was a joint agreement to get a dog as a pet for the family unit, it is very likely that such a dog will be regarded as jointly owned. However, no two cases are ever the same and so bespoke advice should be sought on the particular circumstances of the case.
  • Who bought the dog (including whose name is on the contract made with the rescue centre or breeder)
  • Whose name is registered with the Kennel Club
  • Who is registered on the microchip database
  • Whose name is recorded at the vet’s practice
  • Who is registered on the insurance certificate
  • Who usually takes care of the dog
  • Who pays the day to day expenses for the dog
  • Was the dog bought as a gift

Doglaw Solicitors

If you would like to discuss your situation with one of our Doglaw advisers, please call us during normal office hours on 01304 755 557.

We understand the stress and upset these situations create and all calls are treated in the strictest of confidence. We will need to carry out a conflict check to ensure that we haven’t already advised the other party. Once this check has been cleared, we can take payment via debit or credit card for £60 and then schedule a telephone appointment at a time that suits you.  The call will last up to 20 minutes.

After this advice call, you can then decide whether you would like to instruct us to act for you in the case.  We appreciate that this kind of case can be expensive, therefore, we can set up a payment plan for you, or perhaps look to just help you with some parts of the case.