In law, a dog is regarded as a ‘chattel’ ie. an item that is owned. In the event of a dispute on who should have custody, the Court would consider who is the dog’s owner. Such a case is likely to be heard in the Small Claims Court (part of the County Court) and the claim would be for:
- A declaration of ownership, and
- An order for the return of the dog, and
- An order for damages for wrongful retention of the dog
The Court may have regard to many factors including:-
- Who bought the dog / Whose name is on the contract with a rescue
- Whose name is registered with the Kennel Club
- Whose name is registered on the microchip database
- Who is recorded at the vets practice
- Whose name is on the insurance certificate
- Who is the one who actually looks after it.
Sometimes, a case can be concluded by mediation which involves an independent third party who will try to get the parties to agree to a settlement. The Court has the power to order that the dog shall live solely with one party but there is never a guarantee that this is going to happen. The Court may simply decide that the dog is jointly owned and in the absence of an agreement on who should have it, may order that the dog be sold and the proceeds shared. Another alternative, would be for the Court to order shared ownership, so that (for example) each party may have the dog for 6 months of the year.
Please bear in mind that in a divorce situation, ownership of the dog should be considered at the same time as the other matrimonial chattels are decided.
The Court does not have the power to order access to a dog.
These cases can be very complicated as they can get intertwined with a relationship breakdown. It could also be a dispute between two completely separate people who claim to own the same dog. We appreciate that in any form of ownership / custody disputes that parties will inevitably be upset and fearful of the outcome. Whilst your initial contact with us will probably be by telephone, you may well want to arrange a fixed fee face to face meeting so we can fully explore all the facts with you. See our "How we can help" section for full details.
Please note that the above summary only relates to the law in England and Wales. You must not rely on it as constituting legal advice and so for specific guidance on your particular doglaw issues please contact us - see our "How we can help" section for details.