Shared care of the family pets - Victoria Richardson

In this episode, Tamsin discusses the tricky topic of what happens to the pets on divorce with family solicitor Victoria Richardson.

Victoria is the head of the family law department at Aticus Law, Wilmslow, having over 20 years’ experience in the area of family law. She specialises in all aspects of family law including divorce proceedings, the resolution of complex financial settlement agreements, dissolution of civil partnerships, children disputes and pre-nuptial agreements. Victoria is a true advocate of resolving matters as amicably and as quickly as possible. She is known for her straightforward and honest approach whilst always offering assistance and support to her clients.

You can contact Victoria:

Tamsin is a Chartered Financial Planner with over 20 years experience. She works with couples and individuals who are at the end of a relationship and want agree how to divide their assets FAIRLY without a fight.

You can contact Tamsin at or arrange a free initial meeting using this booking link. She is also part of the team running Facebook group Separation, Divorce and Dissolution UK

Tamsin Caine MSc., FPFS
Chartered Financial Planner
Smart Divorce Ltd

P.S. I am the co-author of “My Divorce Handbook – It’s What You Do Next That Counts”, written by divorce specialists and lawyers writing about their area of expertise to help walk you through the divorce process. You can buy it by scanning the QR code…

Scan me


(The transcript has been created by an AI, apologies for any mistakes)

Tamsin Caine 0:06
Hello, and welcome to the Smart Divorce Podcast. I'm Tamsin Caine and I will be your host during this our series 6 of the podcast. We're delighted that you're joining us again, and hope that you really enjoy today's episode. During series 6 we'll be speaking to other divorce professionals who help in perhaps some of the more unusual ways. So we will be speaking to lawyers who deal with international divorce. We will be speaking child inclusive mediation to name a few. I really hope that you enjoy today's episode. Let's jump right in. Hello, and welcome to the Smart Divorce Podcast. I'm delighted to be joined this afternoon by Victoria Richardson. I'm using your Sunday names. Vicki. I don't really know why. How are you doing, Vicki?

Victoria Richardson 1:02
I'm great. Thank you, Tamsin. And you can use whatever name you want.

Tamsin Caine 1:08
And keep it polite for the podcast. I asked you to start by introducing yourself to our lovely listeners.

Victoria Richardson 1:19
So my name is Victoria Richardson or Vicki, as we've already discovered. I'm a family law partner and Head of Department of Atticus law solicitors based in Manchester and Wilmslow.

Tamsin Caine 1:32
Fantastic. And do you specialise in any particular area of family law? Or do you do a bit of everything?

Victoria Richardson 1:43
I do a bit of everything. But I would say the majority of my work is comprised of divorce and separation of couples. Yes.

Tamsin Caine 1:51
Okay. And both financial and children.

Victoria Richardson 1:55
Both financial and children, yes. And separate children proceedings weren't necessary if they don't arise from a divorce.

Tamsin Caine 2:01
Fabulous. That is brilliant. And so today, we're going to talk about the hairy subject of pets.

Victoria Richardson 2:12
Hairy or non hairy pet

Tamsin Caine 2:14
hairy or non hairy pets. So it's one of the things that we do occasionally get asked about. And it's something that we've never discussed on the podcast, even though were nearly six full series in and three whole years into this podcast, we haven't actually even touched upon discuss impacts in any previous episode. So we kind of thought it was about time. So So pets, have you had any experiences where people have had disputes about their pets in different situations?

Victoria Richardson 2:58
Tamsin,it actually comes off more than you would possibly imagine? And certainly in with parties who might not necessarily have any children. And in that scenario, pets are the children. They are loved as a member of the family, and treated as a member of the family. So when you have a couple who asked question up the priority is who's going to look after the pet? Because they both want to? Obviously, it's an emotional situation for everyone. But if you have someone who loves the call it the dog for argument's sake and wants to care for it, and the other plus does as well, it does cause a lot of distress and upset.

Tamsin Caine 3:38
Absolutely, it seems to me that it's more often. And I know someone's going to contact me and tell me I'm wrong on this. But it seems to more often than not be a dog rather than it doesn't tend to be the goldfish, or they haven't said

Victoria Richardson 3:53
No, it is more more or less the ones that I have dealt with that all of them is the darker because I think for genuine reasons. A dog is probably a bit more of a family member rather than the goldfish that people forget to clean out or argue over who's going to clean out. So for the goldfish to go party I think.

Tamsin Caine 4:12
Absolutely! Like so. So how have you seen these disputes resolved in the past? What sort of options are there for for resolving these disputes?

Victoria Richardson 4:25
And well, I think the important thing to remember is that in law, pets are just seen as belongings, well, they are treated the same as a car. And even though they are possibly much more important than the family car. They are not treated in law, the same as children are and I think a lot of people quite often think that they should be treated the same way that disputes around children. So from the eyes of the law, whoever is the registered owner of the pet should keep the pet. However, it doesn't always work like that. A lot of disputes that I've resolved have centred around maybe Spending time with the pet. And certainly, I've had cases where the pet might be well with one party, but the other party is more available to take it for a walk and has actually gone round and collect it and taken its for walks during the day. If one party is on going on holiday, then the other party will care for the pets. But generally they can be arrangements can be very similar to the arrangements for children may I say, and I think probably a lot of dogs are the children to family anyway. So it makes sense to the arrangements to follow the same kind of ethos.

Tamsin Caine 5:34
Yep, I've certainly seen that happen amongst friends, we have a friend who used to drive down live. So here in the Cheshire area and used to drive all the way down to the home counties to pick up the dog for when they had care of it. Which I think it was done maybe on a fortnightly basis. So they'd alternate, you know, fortnight and, and our friend would go down and pick the dog up, bring it back up here and care for it for the next fortnight, and then go and drop it back. Back home again. But yeah,

Victoria Richardson 6:13
Drastic scenario, but it doesn't mean if, you know, most important thing, I think ultimately parties reach a point where the pet will start to stay with one party or the other and, and gradually, it filters off. But certainly, you know, when people are splitting up and emotions are raw, these arrangements can be put in place, although under stress, they can't be included in any court orders. It's just got to be a general agreement between the parties. And if the parties don't agree, then the pet will go with the person who is the registered owner.

Tamsin Caine 6:46
That was my next question. You know, is there is there going to be a court order to do it recognise who has the pet? And, you know, what, obviously? No, that's, that's not gonna be the case, there's not going to be a similar to children or to where it's all set out in in a court order.

Victoria Richardson 7:06
You could have as part of your financial order, and I've not seen one of these, but I don't see why you couldn't you do? You know, you do have agreements regarding contents. So I don't see whilst why, in theory, there couldn't be an agreement that the dog spends one week, you know, with each, but it's not one that I've seen in all my 24 years of practice for that popular. You know, also legal fees, you know, quite often that the cost of arguing over the dog can be quite extreme when it's probably cheaper just to go and buy another dog to be quite. Oh, it's not the same dog. I appreciate that, you know, because I certainly wouldn't be giving my dog away and can go darker.

Tamsin Caine 7:52
Appeared that's absolutely people seem to feel like that. What What's the so do this, the other thing that that often comes into? Certainly my work and I'm sure it goes into yours is is the costs because obviously owning a pet is is expensive and new, even if you're not going to have shared care feels very strange and that of the dog, or, or whatever other animal. How does the how just the costs of of maintaining the the animal that you will have got as a family pet, how does that come into the divorce settlement?

Victoria Richardson 8:36
Well, I think it's something that's got to be just looked at on its own. And it will very much depend on the case, you may have, for example, the typical situation whereby the pet would go with the children of the family and the wife for argument's sake. Conversely, the roles could be reserved, reversed, but she can't afford to pay the fees. So it's when the other party is prepared to contribute towards the fees. And if they can't, or they're not prepared to then there's an issue about whether they keep the dog, you know, it's really down to that really, the person who has the dog has ownership of the dog, she'll be the one paying for the pets fees, unless there is an agreement that they split the time in which case it would make sense for pet fees and insurance to be split. Equally. It's a common sense I st funds and in the loosest term because obviously in these sort of cases, common sense goes out the window a little bit, but who has the dark shall pay for the dark? Realistically, unless the parties agree otherwise? Yeah, absolutely. In some situations, one party can have the dark because of housing conditions, you know, if they're moving into an apartment or a place that's, you know, not suitable for animals or pets, then that also means that the party has got to have the dog or, you know, causes difficulty.

Tamsin Caine 9:55
Yeah, I mean, the way we you know, the way we talk about it It is coming to the common sense resolution for it. But as we know, often, the common sense conversations about these things can get hot tempered as pose is that is the thing or, you know, acrimonious, because there's a battle over various other things, then this sorts of thinking can come in

Victoria Richardson 10:24
... all the other emotion, but funnily enough, it tends to sometimes be that the pet is the one thing that causes more emotion than everybody, everything else, you know, because, as I've said earlier, they're a member of the family, and they're a character and, you know, when families are separated and splitting up, then nobody wants to say goodbye to the pastor ultimately, which is what someone may be having to do. Yeah, absolutely. Case is actually whereby, if there are children of the family, the pet goes with the children, the family, so when the children spend time with dad, they, the pack goes to and when the children spend time on the pack, you know, goes to so I have had those kinds of cases, but they're more rare, the pets tend to stay with one family member with the other person helping out if one wishes to,

Tamsin Caine 11:10
I guess that's easier if it's a dog less, less, if it's like a tropical fish tank or reptiles. Reptiles, yes, absolutely.

Victoria Richardson 11:21
Reptiles, don't they, you know, it's all about the temperature of the tank and all the rest of it, they're probably more on the dogs.

Tamsin Caine 11:29
So I guess, I guess one question, and this, this will apply to more things than than just the past. But do you have any tips or suggestions about how to take the heat and the emotion out of some of these conversations that that people might be having? Because you don't, you know, yeah, in law, the pet, the dog, where the dog goes, isn't is not going to be particularly relevant. Presumably, you're not going to go to court to try and resolve that as a as a situation. But there are other things that where the emotion gets involved as well, do you have any tips.

Victoria Richardson 12:06
mmm as the family lawyer, we always encourage parties to go to mediation, to see if they can resolve any disputes between them because mediation means that their relationship moving forward even though they're not together be much more amicable. And any agreements that they reach between themselves is much better than the courts becoming involved or long term correspondence to solicitors. So mediation is also an always an option if they want to go and discuss it, whether an independent mediators to try and resolve the decision, especially when you've got two people who they both want to own the dog, they can go to a mediator and get assistance with reaching agreement that the everybody's happy with. Using a mediator can also be significantly less from a cost point of view than using solicitors involved in it. And so this is only going to follow the law. You know, so if there's a dispute was a mediator will help to find some middle ground that suits everybody.

Tamsin Caine 13:03
Yeah, absolutely. And so so with mediation, you've got both parties there and you've got the mediator there and and they're there to almost referee the situation, aren't they to provide a neutral and neutral person in the room so that hopefully the arguments and discussions don't get as heated as perhaps they would, if you were brand your own kitchen table. Tried to have that conversation between you.

Victoria Richardson 13:33
The other tip, I often say to clients, if they don't feel the need to go to mediation is going to have the conversation someone neutral. You know, if you have a conversation, the family home, and emotions arise in high then that's when you shout and scream and starts and one person storms out. If you go to the local coffee shop, people are much more well behaved. Yes, one person could leave but you don't get the same acrimony taking place between people who could be more civilised, and hopefully, you know, things agreed in that way. So if they don't feel that mediation is appropriate, then that also is an option move out of the environment that you're in to somewhere where you'd be embarrassed if you start shouting and screaming at your other half.

Tamsin Caine 14:15
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's really smart

Victoria Richardson 14:17

Tamsin Caine 14:22
We definitely had all pre divorce discussions in in Costa Coffee in our local town, so they certainly benefitted from it. As far as we're concerned.

Victoria Richardson 14:35
Right. Now, Tamsin does it didn't it? You know, you probably weren't, you know, didn't say quite the same things that you might have done in the family home.

Tamsin Caine 14:44
Or I might have said them but we said them quietly and calmly

Victoria Richardson 14:49
the same volume

Tamsin Caine 14:51
thing, something else that somebody said recently and it might have been friends who suddenly was was treated as a business transaction, you know, try and try and sort of step back and take the emotion out of it. And it is difficult when it's a loved family pet, but try and kind of see the other, the other person's side as well and see it as a, as a business transaction and negotiate on that front rather than, rather than having an emotionally charged. And I always think that it's like looking after somebody else's children. You know, if I'm looking after someone else's children, it's a lot easier because they don't know which buttons of mine to press, if I'm looking after my own, they know exactly how to wind me up.

Victoria Richardson 15:38
And I always say to, I'll say to my clients, think about how you would feel if you were on the other party. And over so if you're, both of you has the pet, and how would you feel if you've grown to love that pet, and you just have to say goodbye as well, as you're saying goodbye to the life that you've known. It is harsh, you know. And I think sometimes, when you encourage people to look at the other side that helps to just appreciate them for them to appreciate a bit more, you know, how the other person's feeling and help to reach an agreement?

Tamsin Caine 16:08
Yeah, absolutely. That's certainly the case. And another thing that I just wanted to touch on is, is that there was some press, I think it was a couple of years ago about something called a pack nuptial. And I'm going to be really careful, because I'm not sure if that if that was only used by the particular firm in question, but But is it possible to put down future plans for your beloved pet when you get them so that you document what will happen to them? If if you do split up in the future? Is that Is that possible?

Victoria Richardson 16:47
I suppose my family law point of view, nothing is impossible, you can you know, you can make an agreement as to what will happen. If you do such I haven't done one, I might add. But if the family if the relationship broke down, and there was a dispute about the pet, the quote would use that should it have to not within family law proceedings, but with within civil proceeding. So look at what the intentions were of the parties when they first made that agreement and what they said was going to happen. So anything you would call it in writing is always beneficial in case in, you know, in the future, there should have to be some kind of court proceedings. But having said that, I haven't done one. But as long as we're happy to have a go at anything. Will writes an agreement.

Tamsin Caine 17:33
Or no? Sorry.

Victoria Richardson 17:36
It wouldn't be legally binding. But the court could look at it to decide on what the intentions were at a time make the agreement.

Tamsin Caine 17:43
Okay. And I guess that we should just touch on three nuptials and postdoc chills because I know that the majority of people who are listening to our podcast are going to be probably going through separation and divorce, but it's not unusual for them to also be entering into a new relationship as well. So it probably is worth was touching on pre and post nuptial. So there's always been a rumour in when I speak to anybody about these that they're not worth paper, they're right now.

Not lawyers, I hasten to add. So could you just tell us just briefly what they are and how they work? And and are they worth the paper they're at now.

Victoria Richardson 18:35
So Prenuptial agreements and post nuptial agreements are basically the same document. One will be prepared before a couple get married, and the other will be prepared afterwards, purely maybe because of a time point of view. If they follow certain legal guidelines, then they will be as pretty much legally binding as you can get them. All right. So if you both parties take independent legal advice. If they are prepared well in advance of any wedding, if they are prepared with full disclosure of each other's finances, and there are certain clauses in there, then the court will treat them as pretty much legally binding. If the court is asked to address whether a prenuptial agreement is binding or not, it will depend on situation at the time. And the only thing that will upset that really is probably if there are children involved. And the parties haven't looked at the prenuptial agreement once children have been born to see if that should still apply and whether it's reasonable. So any agreement has to be reasonable. But generally Yeah, they are very important documents, certainly where second marriages are concerned and we're seeing a lot more people wanting to enter into the into them. So yes. Now they're worth a lot more than the paper they're written on. Shammas

Tamsin Caine 19:53
Yeah, so definitely worth looking at particularly if you're if you're into the realms of DESeq In marriage, to protect your assets or to look at what position you want to be in if the second marriage just should come to an end, which obviously you want to avoid. But yeah, so what these things happen don't know what just just as opposed to just tack on to that, what happens if the circumstances have changed massively since since the prenup tool. So for example, one party's taken what was a relatively small business and built it up into something incredibly successful with considerably more than it was on the premium?

Victoria Richardson 20:39
Well, you probably not the majority, prenups basically say that certain assets will remain in the sole name of each party. And if, if that asset is in the sole name of that particular party, and they go on to build up well, good luck to them, the court will only get involved, if it means it's going to be particularly or reasonable to the other party. And obviously, cases dealt with on its own facts. But if it meant might be the party was going to have difficulty rehousing themselves, then obviously, that's the main concern. But the court will look at the needs of the other parties and make sure that they are both satisfied, irrespective of what wealth is involved.

Tamsin Caine 21:19
Brilliant, that's that's true, really useful. him just with just worth touching on it. Well, we were chatting about the situation around pets. Just before we go, is there anything you would like to add on the subject of pets?

Victoria Richardson 21:40
I don't think so. Really, it's it's just a difficult one, isn't it? You know, earlier, maybe people can get so emotional about, about the pets. And quite, you know, often it often happens more than you would expect one of the lawyers to sort it out. And we find ourselves in a difficult position that it's something so emotional, and both parties love that we actually are restricted to what we can do. So I'd always advise the parties if they can't agree with themselves to maybe seek advice for mediator to take away the acrimony and see what arrangements can be made, because there is always a solution.

Tamsin Caine 22:16
Yeah, absolutely. Good advice. And mediation certainly, certainly can help in those situations. And if anybody should want to contact you, how can they do that?

Victoria Richardson 22:27
So they can email me at Victoria dot Richardson at Atticus law, that's one T one

Tamsin Caine 22:36
Wonderful, and we'll, we'll pop that in the show notes as well. So if anybody does want to get ahold of you, they can do so. And Vicki will be joining us a lot more in series seven of the podcast, which is coming in the early spring this year. So thank you for joining us. Thank you for your insights, as always, and thank you for joining us and we will see you again soon. And I hope you enjoyed the episode of the Smart Divorce podcast. If you would like to get in touch please have a look in the show notes for our details or go onto the website Also if you are listening on Apple podcasts or on Spotify and you wouldn't mind leaving us a lovely five star review. That would be fantastic. I know that lots of our listeners are finding this is incredibly helpful in their journey through separation divorce and dissolving a civil partnership. Also, if you would like some further support, we do have Facebook group now. It's called 'Separation divorce and dissolution UK.' Please do go on to Facebook, search up the group and we'd be delighted to have you join us. The one thing I would say is do please answer their membership questions. Okay, have a great day and take care!

Latest insights and articles