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Divorce with a Horse? Divorce with a Horse?

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Feb 09

Divorce with a Horse?

Written by Carmelita Ardren
Head of Family, Children and Divorce

DDI: 01423 724 639
M: 07854 312652
E: carmelita.ardren@raworths.co.uk

As the ‘divorce season’ is now upon us in the post-Christmas fall-out, Family Law solicitor Carmelita Ardren has an update on how divorce can change things in the stable yard as well as the home…

Going through a divorce can be an emotional and traumatic experience, This is especially so when children are involved or there is a dispute about money. But what about the family pet or other animals? How do they fit into the picture – and who pays?

A pet, lovingly cared for and shared during a marriage, can surprisingly be a source of bitter dispute. In the first instance, who gets to keep ‘Maxwell III’? But, once that is resolved, who will pay the vet’s bills and upkeep? The costs of maintaining a small animal are significant enough, but what if the pet is a horse – or three?

In a recent case, a woman was awarded £50,000 maintenance and a £900,000 property with stables to keep her horses in the manner to which they had become accustomed. This is a landmark case which could spark more disputes over pets – particularly horses. The couple, who lived in Gloucestershire, had been married for eleven years but had no children after they had lost a baby in 2001 and 2004. The judges heard that the horses had almost become a child substitute for the wife, a talented rider who enjoyed eventing.  The Senior Family Judge Sir Mark Potter accepted that the horses ‘played a major part in the wife’s life with the consent and encouragement of the husband.’  The husband, who worked as a city banker, argued that the wife’s three horses were a luxury not sustainable once the parties separated. The Judge disagreed, stating that because the hobby had been such a big part of her life, the wife should not be expected to work full time at the cost of her horses and taking part in eventing.

This is, of course, a case where the assets were significant, amounting to £1.5 million, and the facts are unusual but it could still have far-reaching implications. The Court has always had the ability to look at the lifestyle led by the parties prior to the marriage breaking down, and will try to maintain that lifestyle in accordance with the couple’s financial resources. This case established law so that, in the future, it will be difficult to argue that any pet from the family cat to the thoroughbred hunter can be ditched when there are the resources to meet the cost of ownership. This has even greater implications for larger scale maintenance in cases where, perhaps, the couple kept or bred show animals, and where their finances could support appropriate maintenance and accommodation.

It is, however, worth a thought that some city high flyers may be less able to pay for the equestrian ambitions of their ex-wives in the current economic climate and the Judges in this case did say that, should the husband’s means no longer be sufficient to meet the maintenance of three horses, then it would be the wife’s responsibility to find an alternate means to provide for them.

Carmelita Ardren is a solicitor at Raworths LLP Solicitors of Harrogate and head of the Family Law Unit. Telephone: 01423 566666; email Carmelita.ardren@raworths.co.uk

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