Divorce and horses: how it works [H&H VIP]

  • The divorce process is painful enough without having to face the stress of losing your horse as well. While the law provides for children in the event of their parents separating, there is no similar statute pertaining to pets.

    Horses and other animals are treated on the same basis as chairs, paintings and other “personal chattels” — so it’s no surprise that disputes often arise over who retains them following divorce.

    It’s usually best to try to resolve any disagreement between yourselves rather than relying on legal processes.

    “If you are a couple and one of you is ‘horsey’ and the other is not, then it will be clear to both of you who owns the horse,” says Jennifer Wilkie of Anderson Strathern LLP. “It goes without saying that the ‘non-horsey’ half of the relationship may have little interest in retaining a horse and will be accepting of the fact that the horse belongs to their spouse.”

    But what happens in cases where both of you want to keep the horse?

    Who gets what?

    According to Josephine Fay, family team solicitor at law firm Farrer & Co, there are no hard and fast rules governing how chattels should be divided.

    “The issue will be determined on a case by case basis,” she explains. “Generally the courts are reluctant to engage in disputes regarding chattels — including pets — and parties are encouraged to reach an agreement between themselves. However, in highly contentious cases it may be necessary to ask a judge to decide.

    “Obviously you can’t chop a horse in two, but if, for example, the parties still lived close to one another, they could agree to share time with the horse,” adds Josephine.

    “If the only answer is for one party to keep the horse (and both want to), the court will ask each party to set out why they consider it would be most fair for the horse to stay with them. Reasons could include who bought the horse, who has the greatest connection to the horse (for example, was it the foal of a horse owned by one party’s family), whose post-separation home is best equipped for the horse, who could most easily buy themselves another horse and be happy with that outcome?”

    Claiming ‘maintenance’

    If it’s good news, and your other half is allowing you to hang on to the horse after the divorce proceedings go through, the next question is how you are going to pay the livery costs?

    Justin Wadham, a consultant at equestrian law firm Edmondson Hall, says that maintenance costs will only be accorded in high net worth cases.

    “Maintenance is generally based on income needs,” he explains. “The wealthier the parties, the more likelihood of it being the case that, for example, the husband will provide ongoing spousal maintenance to his wife.

    However, in more “run of the mill” cases where there is a limited maintenance claim then it is almost certain that a court will not make one party pay monies towards the upkeep of a horse.”

    Justin adds that the best way to avoid issues over ownership and maintenance costs is to have a pre-nup in place.

    “If a couple in contemplation of marriage wish to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, they would be advised to include the horse and how it would be treated should the parties divorce.”

    The law in Scotland

    Scottish law differs slightly from English law as it pertains to property — including horses.

    The court’s decision as to who owns a horse will be decided on the basis of who the horse actually belongs to and whether the horse is considered to be matrimonial property, in which case it will be accounted for in terms of its value.

    To simplify the divorce proceedings, it is crucial to determine who owns the horse when it is purchased.

    Divorce and horses — 5 things to remember:

    1. Horses are treated in law as a type of property known as a “personal chattel”.
    2. Other pets, such as dogs and cats, are also treated as personal chattels — but because horses are more valuable and cost more to keep, the issue of who retains them on divorce may be more contentious.
    3. It is possible to state in a pre-nuptial agreement who owns a horse and who will retain it in the event of a divorce.
    4. The prospect of a horse being retained on divorce all depends on affordability.
    5. “Time share” arrangements are an option when it comes to horses and other pets, and can be negotiated by your lawyers.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 1 January 2015