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Horses for divorces

Horses for divorces
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A divorcee has been awarded £50,000 a year maintenance - to keep her horses in the manner to which they have become accustomed. What does this mean for tug-of-love battles over the family pet, asks solicitor Kathy Pinney.

Divorcing your partner can be a traumatic experience. Add some children into the mix or large amounts of money and it becomes more so. But when the family pet, or other animals, are involved sparks can really fly. When couples separate and divorce, it's surprising just how much time can be spent discussing what should happen to the animals the unhappy couple once shared.

There are often frequent and bitter arguments as to who will keep Buster, or who will meet the cost of Tabitha's vet bills. Forgetting the highly emotional element of dealing with who will get the pet, the ongoing costs of keeping it happy and healthy can be an expensive business.

Owning a cat or a dog can cost in the region of £600 per year - and that's without occasional trips to the vet. Keep something larger, such as a horse, and the costs can soar.

It's well accepted that horses are an expensive hobby, especially if kept for showing, eventing or hunting - predominantly a luxury of the rich. Not only are there the ongoing costs of keeping the animal fed and stabled, there are the costs of a horsebox, six-weekly farrier bills and the costs of entering events.

Good groom

As most divorce cases settle long before a judge gets to give his or her final word, the case law has been silent as to how the courts will treat the costs of maintaining horses and other pets upon divorce.

Typically, if a couple separates and one party wishes to keep the family pony, detailed schedules as to the income needs of the parties are drafted. They set out not only the cost of council tax and the annual food budget, but also the costs of keeping the animals, which in some cases could include the market rate of a good groom.

The obligation of one party to meet these costs comes broadly within the statutory framework as to the standard of living enjoyed by the parties before the breakdown of the marriage. There are no specific provisions with the statute relating to horses or any other animal. Recently the issue of ongoing maintenance to support a keen horsewoman's lifestyle and her horses was addressed directly in a divorce battle.

The couple, who were not named, had been married for 11 years and had no children. He worked in the city and she worked part-time, spending the majority of her time caring for their four horses, three belonging to the wife and one to the husband. It's pretty clear she was a dedicated horsewoman and is even quoted in the judgment as describing them as "her family". She was also described as "a talented rider participating in eventing".

All about money

In the financial proceedings, she sought enough money to purchase a house with sufficient land to graze the horses. She also sought a reasonable maintenance, factoring in the cost of looking after them.

The judge at first instance recognised her needs in terms of herself and the horses and she was awarded enough money to buy a large property with land. She was also awarded maintenance of £50,000 a year to meet her needs, including those of the horses. Her ex appealed against the decision but failed.

So does this mean a person with a pony gets to keep it upon divorce and can expect ongoing maintenance payments? The answer depends very much on whether there's enough money to meet the costs of maintaining the animal.

This decision will not just apply to those keeping horses. A wife who breeds spaniels and enters them into local dog shows could have a case. It's not inconceivable that she would be awarded sufficient money to buy a property with kennels or maintenance to cover the cost of the vet's bills and doggy treats. It may be less of fighting like cats and dogs, more fighting over the cats and dogs.

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