Who gets the dog? 56 per cent rise in dog divorces

  • Over a quarter (27 per cent) of divorces last year involved the custody of a pet
  • There has been a 20 per cent rise in the demand for ‘pet-nups’, prenuptial agreements involving pets, in the last three years
  • Nearly half of pet owners (46 per cent) who have broken up with a partner believe their pet’s health was negatively affected
  • Divorcing couples are spending upwards of £7,000 on legal fees to agree custody of a pet

Legal experts are increasingly finding custody of a pet is a common feature of divorce cases reveals new research1 from Direct Let Pet Insurance. Last year saw an estimated 101,500 divorces, of which over a quarter (27 per cent) involved the custody or care of a dog or cat. In around half of divorce cases, where the custody of a pet is involved, they were prioritised over property and cars (both 55 per cent), furniture, electrical items, household goods (53 per cent) and jewellery, paintings, or collectibles (49 per cent). 

The last three years has seen a 20 per cent rise in demand for ‘pet-nups’, pre-nuptial agreements, which cover the custody of a pet in event of a relationship breaking down. Owners are even now considering who would get custody of the pet in a divorce settlement before they are even married.

Divorce lawyers expect this rise is due to the increasing number of relationships breaking down due to the pandemic (64 per cent), the growing emotional connection to pets formed over lockdown (63 per cent) and the rise in pet ownership during the pandemic (55 per cent).

In fact, pet ownership2 has soared over the last few years. Some 16 million people now own a dog, 3.8 million of whom took ownership during the pandemic. The same trend is true for cats, with 2.7 million new owners in the last two years.

Divorce cases involving pets are taking a great deal of legal time. On average, family lawyers are spending nearly 24 hours per divorce case discussing the custody of a pet, and agreeing what will happen to the animal, the equivalent of three days’ work. At an average hourly rate of £308 for those using specialist legal advice, couples could be spending upwards of £7,000 to agree custody of their pet.

If expecting to pay and fight for custody over a pet, owners first need to understand what constitutes ownership. Over two fifths (42 per cent) of divorce lawyers listed payment of daily care as the key factor, while over a quarter (28 per cent) said the person listed as the owner on relevant paperwork is important. The primary caregiver is considered in just 12 per cent of cases.

While breakups are tough for all involved, the disruption can also impact animals. Nearly half of pet owners who have experienced a breakup (46 per cent), more than four million people, believe their pet’s health was negatively affected by the breakdown of the relationship, some even needing veterinary treatment as a result (five per cent).

In the event of a breakup, owners would consider several options when deciding who gets the pets. Current owners would consider setting up a financial agreement (36 per cent) or sharing custody (35 per cent). Some would take the difficult decision of giving up ownership to their ex-partner (34 per cent) or friend or family member (28 per cent).  Of extreme concern is the number of people who would consider having their pet put down (16 per cent) in event of a relationship breakup.   

Table one:  Steps people have taken, or would take, in the event of a breakup

Step taken in event of breakup

Share of people who have or would do this

Number of people who have or would do this

Setting up financial agreement to look after the pet

36 per cent

11.0 million

Shared custody of the pet

35 per cent

10.5 million

Giving up ownership to partner

34 per cent

10.2 million

Paying partner for full ownership

33 per cent

10.0 million

Giving the pet to a friend or family member

28 per cent

8.5 million

Follow the rules set out in the pet-nup agreement

24 per cent

7.4 million

Giving the pet to a shelter or rescue centre

20 per cent

6.2 million

Having the pet put down

16 per cent

5.0 million

Selling the pet

14 per cent

4.2 million

Source: Direct Line Pet Insurance 2022

Madeline Pike, Veterinary Nurse for Direct Line Pet Insurance said: “Adapting to new family dynamics is stressful for all involved, including animals who will often pick up on their owner’s emotions. We know that pet’s benefit from routine and if they are moving home or between homes, it may take some time to adjust.

“As a nation of animal lovers, it’s not surprising so many people would fight for custody of their pets if they were to breakup with a partner. Any changes to ownership or to the pet’s address should be shared with the pet’s insurer so details are kept up to date. When deciding what happens to your pet when your relationship ends, we’d urge owners to consider what they think is best for the animal and cause them the least disruption.”

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Notes to Editors

1        Research conducted among 100 family lawyers by Pure Profile in February 2022

2        Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,002 adults between 4th and 8th February 2022

3        https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-01-17/spain-new-law-providing-for-increased-protection-of-animals-adopted/

For further information please contact:

Chelsey Wheeler
PR manager – Direct Line  

Tel: 01651 832 095

Email: [email protected]

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

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Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

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