It is increasingly common for couples to jointly raise a pet which is regarded as an integral part of, or even a member of, the household. However when it comes to a divorce later on, the pet then becomes a very tricky issue.
Is the pet to be treated as a child in a battle for “pet custody”, or as merely an “asset” for which the court will have to decide who gets possession of it?
Should the Pet be Considered as an Asset or a Child?
The court has the power to order the division of assets which are considered “matrimonial assets”. Generally, an “asset” to be divided in divorce proceedings refers to a thing or property of value.
Pets are treated as personal property (and therefore, divisible assets) for the purposes of divorce proceedings in the UK and Australia. However, it is not clear whether a pet should legally be considered an “asset” in the first place. There is some difficulty in treating a living animal as an “asset” to be divided upon divorce.
Would it be more appropriate then to treat the pet as a child for obtaining “child custody” over? While this is unheard of under Singapore law, courts in other jurisdictions such as Alaska have started to do so, by deciding custody issues in relation to pets based on a consideration of the pet’s welfare or well-being.
What is the Singapore Position on this Issue?
In Singapore, it appears that pets are currently regarded as personal property, with some focus placed on their well-being. This is reflected in the 2011 case of Tan Huey Kuan (alias Chen Huijuan) v Tan Kok Chye, which involved a dispute over the possession of the divorcing couple’s jointly adopted dog. In that case, the Singapore High Court determined who was to keep the dog by considering the following factors:
- Who had been taking care of the dog
- Who was closer or more attached to the dog
- Who the dog was more attached to
- Who would be better able to take care of the dog and attend to all its needs
- What the home environment for the dog was going to be like
- What should be done in the dog’s overall best interest
This means that the Singapore court is likely to view a family pet in a similar manner as typical matrimonial assets such as cars or jewellery in divorce proceedings. However, the court will likely assign the pet to the spouse it deems to be the more appropriate caretaker.