University of Western Australia: Report finds pet custody laws need overhaul to better reflect society

A new journal article argues that Australian family law needs to change to better reflect the place pets have in society when ruling on custody disputes.

Dr Marilyn Bromberg, from The University Western Australia’s Law School, Adam Jardine and Nicholas Cardaci were authors of No More Fighting Like Cats And Dogs: It’s Time For A New Pet Custody Model In Australia published in the Canberra Law Review.

“A pet custody regime could better reflect the unique place that companion animals occupy in Australian society,” Dr Bromberg said.

“This is contrary to the current approach of Australian law where pets are regarded as a material possession.”

Many Australians love their pets and treat them as bona fide family members; so the article argued for a new approach that reflects our social understanding of pets as part of the family.

“There is enough intellectual substance behind the core ideas of pet custody not to be flippant or dismissive,” Mr Jardine said.

The article suggested three alternative models of pet custody for Australia: the Pets as Persons model, extending the law’s reach to animals in areas once reserved for people; the Sentimentality model, where pets are treated differently from other types of property to reflect their special position in human lives; and the Liminal model, which considers pets’ best interests.

The article concluded that adopting any alternative model (without expressing a preference for a particular model) would better reflect modern Australian attitudes towards pets.

“We recognised that pets should not be treated as property but should also not be given the same rights as humans — a nuanced approach is required,” Dr Bromberg said.