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Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Tuesday, 23 September 2008 11:38 UK

Horses for divorces

Girl on horse
Pets can be regarded as almost as important as children

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.

She was a dedicated horsewoman, in fact she is quoted in the judgment as describing the horses as being 'her family'

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.

Paris Hilton and pet
The cost of owning a pet can be high

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.

Kathy Pinney is a solicitor in the family law team at Boodle Hatfield

Below is a selection of your comments.

I think as time goes on marriage will become a thing of the past, certainly for anyone with a career or possible assets. It will be too risky a venture and people will look to alternatives. Rather sad I think.
Geoff Leavitt, Sheffield

If I had a divorce, I would happily pay money to my ex-wife for the maintenance of our son/daughter to aid his/her upbringing etc. But the sole purpose of a pet is to serve as a companion or friend. If my ex-wife kept the pet I would expect her to pay ALL necessary costs. Understandably, it would be difficult to choose WHO keeps the pet. But in my opinion, whoever keeps it, pays for it. If neither partner can afford to keep the pet by themselves, the animal should be sent to a rescue centre for eventual re-housing. I would refuse to pay for the upkeep of an animal if I was unable to continue experiencing the benefits of having a pet.
Scott Tyrrell, Grimsby

I completely agree with the ruling on this case, some people choose to have animals instead of children and a high percentage of people treat their animals as their children. In the case of horses their care often demands as much as the demands of a child hence close bonds are formed. Why should something that is as important to some people as a child would be - be ignored in a divorce? I do disagree with the comment that horse ownership is a "luxury of the rich" - the BBC will find that the high majority of horse owners are hard working people who do have full time jobs to fund their hobby and tend to go without many things to pay for their interest - myself included. It is about time people stopped stereotyping.
Gemma, Huddersfield

This would be pretty ironic if it were the animals that caused husband and wife to fall out in the first place - more than possible I would have thought. However, someone has to pay for the animals' upkeep and welfare. You can't just store them in the attic or throw them out for the refuse-collector.
Doug Richardson, Tiverton

Pardon the pun but the Judge is barking, sensible thing would be to sell the horses and split the money. If one party wants to keep them then let them fund it, ridiculous.
John Young, Glasgow

That's just totally unfair! Not only does the "loser" not have the pet but they have to cough up. It's obscene that woman is getting four times what I earn a year to support her hobby. If she wants to keep horses she needs to get a full time job or if she doesn't want to do that live in a more appropriate manner.
Margaret Coyle, Bangor

This is more about lifestyle and maintenance rather than the horses. Lots of wives ask for thousands (and hundreds of thousands) in maintenance to support a lifestyle and this is just the same. Look at Heather McCartney!
Alice, Reading

Whatever happened to "if you can't afford to keep it, don't have it?" I am married and we have three dogs. If we ever decided to split up I would probably end up with the dogs. This would mean I would probably have to re home them, as I could barely afford to find accommodation for just me, let alone three dogs. This is ridiculous!
Anne Boyce, Halifax, England

I agree that she should get a job to maintain the horses, but to say that they should be sold to split the money? It's not as simple as that. My horse is the centre of my world and I would do anything to keep him, so to sell him as part of a divorce settlement (I'm not married anyway) would be unthinkable. But then he is mine alone, neither bought nor maintained by my partner. Having said that, how many people could honestly say they would turn down this sort of money to maintain their hobby?! It is obviously within the financial means of her ex, and her horse is as important as a child to her, as is mine, so why not? By the way, horses are not 'predominantly a luxury of the rich'. The average horse owner, including me, is poor as a church mouse, because all the money they have goes on their horses. I go without to ensure he has everything, rarely buy any clothing or item that's not related in some way to horses and look after him myself.
Helen Greenwood, Caerphilly

I can't believe the selfishness of some of these comments. Animals are NOT assets or goods just to be disposed of when they are no longer viable. I am sick to the back teeth of people treating animals with such hate and disrespect. What happened to the adage, a dog is for life, not for Christmas? Does this apply only when it suits you? How short are memories? How cruel and disgusting is human nature? The woman in the article has every right to the maintenance money. It's sick to consider otherwise.
Will Hill, Norwich, Norfolk

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