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The rise of Pet-nups: who gets the dog if you separate or divorce?

According to the PDSA, 51% of adults in the UK are pet owners, with 26% of them owning a dog – that’s over 10 million pet dogs in the UK alone. But what would happen to these pets if their owners got divorced or separated? This blog post explores the rise of Pet-nups, a type of prenuptial agreement that specifically details what would happen to the couple’s pet in the event of a divorce or separation.

Pet custody: what do you need to consider?

Who would get your dog if you and your partner were to divorce? The number of times this question is asked has been on the rise in the past few years, and we’re expecting it to become even more frequent over the coming months due to rise in pet ownership, coupled with the strain the pandemic has put on many relationships. 

Getting divorced can be very stressful and worries over pet ownership will only make this worse. When deciding who gets the family pet, there are often disputes, as pets are seen as family members or “children” by many couples; agreements can be hard to reach when financial costs have to be considered, as well as potential visitation rights. Luckily, some careful planning in advance can help alleviate the worry. This is where pet-nups come in, but first, you must give some consideration to the following questions:

1)   Have you and your partner reached an agreement between yourselves about pet custody?

2)   If not, who paid for the pet?

3)   Was it a gift? 

4)   What evidence is there to support ownership? Do you have paperwork from the rescue charity (Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs Home, etc.), or a receipt from the breeder?

5)   Who will pay for the dog’s upkeep (food, etc.) and any medical bills?

6)   Many couples need assistance to reach a compromise about the arrangements for their dog. Do you?

Legally, pets are considered personal possessions (chattels), and this is how they will be treated by the Court. The Courts also tends to focus on matters involving finances and children in divorce cases, rather than pets. In order to have peace of mind, there are steps you can take to prevent any future confusion or difficulties, should you ever get divorced or separate.

Pet-nups: how can they help?

Pet-nups have been receiving some press coverage lately and are the pet-related version of a pre-nuptial agreement. A pet-nup will outline the arrangements for your dog and are subject to contract principles. Depending on the circumstances, you may be considering entering a pre-nuptial agreement anyway, in this case a reference could be made to your dog within this agreement. Otherwise, you can get one written up at the start of your relationship, or when you acquire a dog.

Whilst a pet-nup relates specifically to married couples, if you are not planning to marry, you may wish instead to consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement which can contain provisions about your beloved pets.

How can our family law team help?

At Eric Robinson Solicitors, the family law team can advise you in relation to all of the above points and can assist you with the preparation of a Pet-nup, a Pre-Nuptial Agreement or a Cohabitation Agreement, depending on your circumstances. Please contact our team if you decide to seek legal assistance. 

Knowing that your family pet’s future is secure will provide you with great peace of mind, enabling you to enjoy the companionship of your dogs, cats or other pets for as long as possible, free from worry.