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Who gets the pets (and ongoing vet bills) post-break-up?

By Helen Baker
  • April 23 2020
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Save

Who gets the pets (and ongoing vet bills) post-break-up?

By Helen Baker
April 23 2020

Big mistakes can be made when relationships end. There is a lot going on, and it’s understandable. The requirements of pet ownership are likely to fall through the cracks. But not accounting for the financial demands of a pet can have serious and heartbreaking consequences down the track.

pet vet bills

Who gets the pets (and ongoing vet bills) post-break-up?

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By Helen Baker
  • April 23 2020
  • Share

Big mistakes can be made when relationships end. There is a lot going on, and it’s understandable. The requirements of pet ownership are likely to fall through the cracks. But not accounting for the financial demands of a pet can have serious and heartbreaking consequences down the track.

pet vet bills

Break-ups are physically and emotionally draining. You are house hunting, dividing possessions, untangling money and making parenting arrangements. Discussions about who takes the dog will often revolve around short-term practicalities. Who has the space and time for the pet? But discussions about the costs are important.

I had a client going through a tough divorce. She ended up with the kids so, naturally, also took the dog. But in the settlement, there were no financial provisions for the dog. Life as a single parent was tougher than she expected and her ex refused to help with pet costs, despite being a high-earner. She was faced with an ultimatum, give up something else or put down the dog.

Understand the expenses

Understanding the costs of a pet are the first step to making decisions about what to do with it.

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In the first year of pet ownership, a cat or dog will cost you anywhere between $3,000 and $6,000. After that you can expect to pay at least $1,475 each year for a dog and $1,029 for a cat. And that’s providing there are no accidents, injuries or illnesses. If your dog lives to be 12 years old, that’s $23,700.

That estimate is without pet insurance, which can be anywhere from $700 to $1,050 per year. The MoneySmart website has helpful information about pet costs and insurance.

Calculating costs is often overlooked while in a relationship. A client of mine put all expenses on the couple’s credit card. They never really knew what the dog cost them. When they split, and she came to me for advice, the expense was quite a shock.

Think long-term when pet sharing

Many child-free couples have pets that feel like their own children to them, and they often agree to split time with the pet. This will often include making arrangements to share the costs, too, which often works until a dynamic changes the status quo. I’ve seen these fall apart after a while. As life moves on for each partner, that may mean they move somewhere they can’t have a pet, a job change means they are no longer available, and very often what often happens is they find someone new. When there’s a new love, sharing a dog with your ex gets complicated. What if the new relationship has an allergy to pets? Or a dislike of pets? Or you are moving in with them and they already have a pet that makes this yours an extra burden. If you were splitting the costs, now is the former partner totally responsible for all bills?

It is reasonable to ask for a payment if you are the one taking custody of the animal, either after a divorce with kids or a short de facto relationship.

Domestic violence will complicate a person’s ability to make demands. When you’ve already gone through so much to leave a partner, asking for any financial support seems laughable. Often pets are used to coerce and control. People stay in relationships that aren’t safe to protect a pet. Research from the University of Sydney has shown that when a woman is a victim of domestic violence, 70 per cent of the time the perpetrator is also abusing the family pets.

With all the trauma around a break-up, many things are overlooked. In my experience, women settle their divorces without enough consideration for their long-term stability. Unfortunately, mistakes made in a settlement can reverberate through a lifetime.

Before you seal the deal of your split, be it a marriage or de facto, thoroughly understand your finances. You don’t want surprises. Not now or in 10 years. Our pets give us so much joy, and they don’t ask for much in return. Ensuring their, and your, future stability might mean a tough conversation, but it’s an important one.

Helen Baker is a licensed Australian financial adviser and author.

Note: This is general advice only and you should seek advice specific to your circumstances.

Who gets the pets (and ongoing vet bills) post-break-up?
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