In the recent case of Grunseth & Wighton  FedCFamC1A 132, the Full Court of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia considered the question of ownership of the family pet in the context of de facto law proceedings. A pet is regarded as “property” under the Family Law Act 1975 (as Amended).
The case concerned an appeal from a primary decision made by the Court, which decided in the first instance that the family pet was to remain in the possession of the husband. In making the decision, the primary judge considered the husband’s daughter’s emotional attachment to the pet.
The pet in question was a “spoodle” named Roxy, who was purchased in 2014. Each party sought an order for Roxy’s possession. Neither party placed a value on Roxy, perhaps demonstrating Roxy’s sentimental value.
The parties had been in a relationship of short duration (approximately 3 years). The wife was the registered owner of Roxy and paid for her. It was accepted that Roxy was purchased for the husband’s daughter from a previous relationship (Ms T), who chose and named Roxy.
On appeal, the primary judge’s decision was overturned, and an order was made for Roxy to be retained by the wife.
In making the decision, the following findings were of significance:
- Roxy was registered in the wife’s name;
- The wife funded the purchase of Roxy and paid for her desexing operation;
- The wife was financially responsible for costs associated with Roxy’s day-to-day care including her food, vaccinations, medications and grooming;
- The husband’s daughter, Ms T, is not a party to the proceedings, and has no legal or equitable interest in Roxy, and therefore it is not appropriate to make an order transferring Roxy to Ms T.
Despite Ms T’s emotional attachment to Roxy, the Full Court stated:
“As much as it will pain pet lovers, animals are property and are to be treated as such. Questions of attachment are not relevant and the Court is not, in effect, to undertake a parenting case in respect to them.”
The Full Court also discussed the approach to be adopted in assessing the value of pets in property proceedings. If a pet has significant value, they are to be valued in the usual manner. In cases of family pets of limited financial value, the Full Court stated it is open for parties to make a “blind bid”, with the highest offer being accepted, to then be taken into account in the overall division of property.
For more information, or to discuss the issues raised in this case note, please contact Rebecca Goldman, Principal Lawyer, on (03) 8600 8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dominique Mavroyeni, Senior Associate, on email@example.com or (03) 8600 8838.
This Family Law case note was authored by Dominique Mavroyeni, Senior Associate.
Note: This update is a guide only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.