What is Animal Law?

Our new family lawyer HELEN DAY-McMAHON is also passionate about Animal Law. She explains what Animal Law is, and why you need to take it into consideration in Family Law and Estate Planning.

I have a special interest in Animal Law and Welfare issues. The application of Animal Law stretches across most areas of the law and is therefore far more extensive and complicated than can be covered in this article. I would welcome any comments, questions or thoughts regarding animal law and family law issues.

Often when I mention my interest in this area, I am met with a puzzled look and the inevitable question “Animal law, what’s that?”

In the eyes of the law, an animal’s legal status is similar to that imposed upon 18th century slaves in the USA, that is, animals are considered chattels or property a definition which clearly ignores their sentient characteristics. The optimistic animal lover (such as me) therefore endeavours to find ways to apply those laws to the advantage of our furry, feathered or scaly friends (or skinned – let’s not forget all those pet snakes out there!).

Pets, Wills and Family Law

Well over 60% of Australian households include a pet. Those pets run into the millions are of various species. Many people consider their pets to be family members and, like my two “fur-babies”, some people even consider their pets to be their children.

Studies have shown that sadly, many animals find themselves without a home when their owners pass away. Whilst it’s not possible to leave money to your pet, you can make provision for your pet(s) in a properly drafted Will. Oftentimes people believe an informal verbal agreement with a family member or friend will protect their pet(s).

Unfortunately, such an arrangement may not be enforceable and your pet may find him/herself left to fend for itself. A lawyer can prepare your Will which can include a clause which will make sure any informal arrangement is legally binding.

As for how the breakdown of a relationship impacts on our pets, whilst “children’s issues” traditionally relate to the two legged child, it is my belief that with over 60% of Australian households include a pet as a family member, disputes over where the family pet(s) should live, will become part of the legal backdrop in Family Law.

Because animals are considered property, you can in fact make arrangements for your pet(s) as part of your Family Law property settlement. If you and your ex-spouse are able to reach agreement about property, you can include arrangements for your pet(s) such as where the pet(s) will live and who will provide financially for your pet(s). I am not aware of a dispute reaching an Australia Family Law court concerning who will get the pet(s), but this is an issue on which the Family Court can make Orders.

To prepare a Will or family law agreement is complicated at the best of times. Preparing clauses to cover the legal requirements for your pet(s) is even more so. You should therefore seek legal advice about this or any other issue which might impact upon your family law matter or the distribution of your life’s work after you have passed away.


If you have any Estate Planning or Family Law questions regarding your pets, or any other legal question regarding animal welfare, contact Helen Day-McMahon at Baker Love Lawyers on 02 49 515766.