Custody, ownership and access disputes (‘tug of love’ cases)

This is the area of law for which we get the most enquiries. These cases can be very complicated and, of course, they are invariably emotionally charged. Delay can be very damaging to your chances of success so please get in touch with us as quickly as you can so that we can guide you on how best to proceed.


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.


The most common situation that we come across is where a couple are separating (or have separated) and they can’t agree on who should have the dog. 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.


We can offer you a one-off fixed price telephone consultation for only £36 for up to 20 minutes. To proceed please call us on

01304 755 557

during normal office hours. All calls are dealt with in the strictest of confidence. We will need to do a conflict check (to make sure that we haven’t already advised the other party) and provided it is clear we can take payment by debit or credit card and make an appointment for the call. Same day appointments are sometimes available.


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.