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Most of you would know that animals are sentient beings. They have a capacity to feel pain and pleasure. Those of you who are not lawyers may not realise that under Australian law, animals are treated as property of their owners.

The categorisation of pets as property likens them to disposable objects or household commodities. It is mistakenly believed by many that the Court will make shared care arrangements for pets. However, this is not the case.

In 2013 the Australian Veterinary Association estimated that 25 million pets lived in Australian households. Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world.

Unfortunately often following a family law property settlement, the family home may be sold and the proceeds of sale are divided between the parties. Where there are limited assets and limited income, each party cannot always afford to purchase a new home straight away, particularly in circumstances where the household had existed on two wages but is now only running on the one source of income. Applications to lenders for home loans are also less likely to be approved where there is only one source of income. Rental premises do not always allow pets.

A number of pets are relinquished to animal shelters and pounds as a direct result of relationship breakdowns. The RSPCA reported to have received a total of 133,495 animals in the 2014 and 2015 financial year. A total of 40,296 animals were reported by the RSPCA to have been euthanised between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2015. (Figures from RSPCA NSW website –

The current treatment of animals as property of their owners letting may be letting “mans best friend” down.

Academics including David Favre and Tony Bogdanovski have explored this area and suggested that a better legal concept would be for pets to have their own legal personhood. This would mean that their human owners are treated as their guardians, with a fiduciary relationship to exist between owners and their pets and the owners in turn having a duty of care to their pets.  These academics believe that changing the legal status of pets will decrease the amount of animals that are relinquished to animal shelters and pounds.

If you have experienced a relationship breakdown, we have trained family lawyers available to provide assistance at any of our 5 offices throughout the Illawarra and Sydney.