How to find a divorce lawyer in Cape Town, South Africa

Pets and divorce

I was recently contacted by a newspaper journalist to give an opinion in a newspaper about animals and how they are treated in divorce cases. The article was later drafted by her and appeared in a Cape Town newspaper.

I explained to her that the reality of the matter in South Africa is that couples do not often fight about animals when going through a divorce. In fact I would say that in only about one out of ten divorces do the couples argue about animals.

The cases where couples argue about animals usually only occur in matters where the parties are fairly wealthy, and also in matters where there are no children. Couples are more likely to spend money litigating on custody to children, maintenance and assets than spending money litigating on animals.

What is particularly interesting to consider is why in other countries a couple going through a divorce are more likely to fight over animals in a divorce than a couple in South Africa. The reality of the matter is that in countries such as the United Kingdom animals are treated more like children than in South Africa.

In many European countries it is customary for a dog for example to sleep inside the house. This is not so in South Africa. Very often you would find that a dog in South Africa sleeps outside and is not considered a member of the household. If one party in the divorce gets to keep the house at finalization of the divorce, usually the dog would carry on staying in the house.

In South Africa we treat animals in our divorce consent papers in a similar way to how we treat other movable assets. We would say that the dog becomes the “sole and absolute property of one the parties” at dissolution of the marriage, for example. Some people in some countries would argue that this can be seen as unethical treatment of the animal, referring to them as “property”.

Some attorneys argue that antenuptial contracts should include provisions relating to what should happen to the animals at the time of dissolution of the marriage. This makes sense to me. In very much the same way that one would have clauses relating to what would happen to the assets, in the prenup, one could also have clauses dealing with where a pet should stay post-divorce and who would be responsible for paying for the pet.

Recently an article was written by Tom Cox in the Daily Mail. He wrote about how he and his ex-wife fought over their six cats when they got divorced. He is also writer of “Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man”.

Animals in divorce cases are an extremely interesting topic, which can cause a great deal of dispute in a divorce over who gets them. I suppose the most logical way of sorting this out would be if a member of the SPCA investigated each specific situation and home, to determine what is in the best interests of each specific animal. This function would be similar to that of a family advocate in determining what is in the best interests of a child in divorce and where the child should stay after the divorce.

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