Pet custody agreements in Australia

For separating or divorcing couples across the country, many resources are available regarding what happens to the children. But what about when it comes to our pets? For many households, our pets are like family and should be treated and cared for as such. Pet custody agreements can give you peace of mind, knowing your furry friend will be well protected during your separation while having their best interests met.


Working through your divorce or separation can be complex enough without worrying about what will happen to your beloved pet. That’s where the expertise and guidance from Australian Family Law Advisory Services (AFLAS) comes in. We are a professional and respected team that provides free and cost-friendly legal resources to Australian families going through separation.

What is the value of having a pet custody agreement for your pet?

In Australia, as in many other countries, pet custody agreements have become crucial as more families consider their pets as cherished members. These agreements outline the responsibilities and arrangements for the care of pets in the event of a relationship breakdown, providing several benefits:

  • Clarity and certainty — A pet custody agreement provides clear guidelines on pet ownership, care and visitation rights. Having a pet custody agreement in your arsenal reduces ambiguity and ensures both parties understand their roles and responsibilities regarding the pet.
  • Minimise risk of conflict — Having clearly defined arrangements can reduce the likelihood of disputes and conflicts between separating or divorcing partners. By understanding the specific terms of the pet’s custody and living arrangements, you can prevent future disagreements and potential legal battles.
  • Maintaining the pet’s best interest — A pet custody agreement prioritises the animal’s well-being. It ensures that the pet’s routine, diet, medical care and overall happiness are maintained to promote a stable and positive environment for the pet.
  • Customisable — Like a parenting plan, a pet custody agreement is highly customisable. Partners can tailor the agreement to suit their needs, considering factors such as work schedules, living arrangements and the pet’s requirements. This flexibility allows for practical and realistic solutions while minimising disagreements.
  • Promotes stability for the children — If children are involved in the separation, a pet custody agreement can contribute to their stability. Pets often form strong bonds with children, and maintaining consistent access to the pet can provide a sense of comfort and familiarity during a period of change.
  • Prevents impulse decision-making — Separation and divorce are highly emotionally charged situations that can often bring on impulse decision-making. Pet custody agreements are well-thought-out arrangements that are more likely to be made in the pet’s best interests.

Can my partner and I share custody of our pet?

Yes, separating parties can opt to share custody of their pet. Pets are regarded as property under Australian law, which means that, like any other kind of asset division, partners are encouraged to reach an agreement without the court’s involvement.

If you want to create a shared pet custody agreement, there are a few ways to do this. For instance, you may want to include a detailed agreement in your binding financial agreement (BFA) that dictates your pet’s care. Utilising a legally binding timetable system and pet custody agreement can act as an aid in building your agreement.

The key to successfully creating a shared pet custody agreement is by making a genuine effort to negotiate and compromise wherever possible. Keeping your pet’s best interests at the forefront of your decision-making can simplify the process between you and your partner.

What does a typical shared pet custody agreement contain?

Similar to a parenting plan, a pet custody agreement includes the responsibilities and arrangements for caring for a pet in the event of a separation, divorce or any specific situation where pet ownership needs to be shared between parties. While they are highly customisable for separating parties, a standard pet custody agreement may include:

  • The pet’s identification — This includes details like the pet’s name, breed, age, microchip number and any other relevant identification details.
  • Custody and visitation arrangements — Your agreement may specify who gets primary custody and ownership of the pet and outline a visitation schedule for the non-primary owner. This schedule can include details such as visitation days, times and locations.
  • Decision-making authority — From the pet’s diet, health and grooming requirements, a standard pet custody agreement can specify whether decisions must be made jointly or if one party has the final say in certain situations.
  • Financial obligations — Your agreement may address the financial responsibilities of owning the pet, including the division of expenses such as veterinary care, food, grooming and other necessary ongoing supplies. It may also include arrangements for unexpected medical expenses and emergencies.
  • Determining end-of-life circumstances — Many couples may also want to establish end-of-life decisions regarding their pet. This can include euthanasia and burial or cremation arrangements.

While the contents of your pet custody agreement are entirely up to you and your partner, it’s highly recommended to be as detailed and specific as possible to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts in the future. Creating a clear and comprehensive agreement tailored to the pet’s needs and your circumstances can provide a stable and loving environment for the pet, even in a changing family dynamic.

What happens if we can’t agree?

When partners cannot agree on a pet custody agreement, the next step typically involves applying for a property order from the court that includes your pet. In these circumstances, it’s recommended for each party to seek legal assistance from a family lawyer experienced in pet custody disputes. The lawyer will be responsible for guiding them through the legal process and preparing the documents for the court application.

Under a property order, if either party fails to adhere to the court’s decision, there may be legal consequences, making it essential for both parties to respect and follow the terms of the court order to avoid further legal complications.

Why work with AFLAS

Relationship breakdowns are never an easy transition, and having to work through the legal system during your separation can be a time-consuming and overwhelming process. With so many different resources and solutions listed online, understanding what is applicable to you can feel almost impossible. AFLAS was founded to bring about positive change in the Family Law sector by providing a single source of truth around all aspects of family relationship issues.

We provide free and cost-effective resources to Australians going through a separation or divorce. At AFLAS, we find you Family Law experts who always have your back. Whether you’re after a pet custody agreement or more information on where you currently stand with your separation, AFLAS can help.

Get started with AFLAS today

Give yourself clarity over your pet custody agreement arrangements and positively move into your next phase of life by working with AFLAS. Book a triage with the AFLAS team today to put you in contact with experts who can help you get a pet custody agreement in place.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal advice tailored to your unique circumstances. Always consult with a legal professional to obtain advice related to your specific legal needs. At AFLAS we can refer you to legal advisors, professionals and services, but we are not a legal advice service.