April 4, 2024

How to avoid a tug of paws on who keeps the pet

By Jones Myers Solicitor Lindsey Cross  

The recent Easter break is among key calendar events when tensions can run high – and many couples who have been thinking about separation and divorce decide they want a new start.   

As a nation, we love our pets who are considered a key family member, particularly among children.  But what happens to the much loved animals in divorce and separation?

Following an increase in the number of cases where the arrangement for pets is disputed, I share some key insights below: 

What is the legal position on pets and separation?

Sadly, the law treats pets as goods and personal property and there is no reference to how they should be treated or any particular factors that should be taken into account for them.  

The Court will often look at who paid for the animal, who is the registered owner at the vets, who has primarily been responsible for the animal and who has been paying for food and veterinary costs. 

Can pets be shared between a spouse and their ex?

The Court can either give sole ownership to one person or could decide that joint ownership is appropriate. If no-one is willing to look after the pet, the Court can even decide for it to be sold.

How can a Court’s involvement be avoided?   

Many separating couples keen to avoid confrontation, confusion or heartbreak over pets are considering how they can make provision for them in the same way that they consider the arrangements for their children.

Do pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements exist for pets?

Yes. All variety of pets can be included within a pet nuptial – the pet equivalent of a pre-nuptial  agreement. The contract can include ownership and who will meet the pet’s daily needs such as feeding, walking, veterinary care – and how these costs will be met.

There is also the pet equivalent of a post-nuptial agreement, which can be drawn up any time after the marriage.   

Are these contracts legal binding?

Whilst these agreements are not strictly legally binding, divorce Courts are placing more weight on them where both parties have taken appropriate legal advice and made fair arrangements.

What about pet arrangements for cohabitating couples?   

Unmarried couples who are living together and decide to split up can include pet arrangements in a Cohabitation Agreement or ‘living together’ agreement which sets out how they intend to deal with their financial affairs.

The contract covers who owns what and in what proportion, how property will be divided, what happens with personal belongings, savings, debts, pensions and other assets on separation.

It also documents how children will be supported, how to deal with bank accounts, debts and joint purchases such as a house or car, along with pet ‘custody’ issues.

The agreement provides clarity on helping couples decide how to manage key areas of their lives while they are together and if they split up.

Like pre-nuptial and post=nuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements can  give reassurance that pets will be loved and cared for despite the relationship breakdown.   

For queries on pet-nuptials, cohabitation agreements or any aspect of family law, call 0113 246 0055 (Leeds), 01423 276104 (Harrogate) , or 01904 202550 (York) www.jonesmyers.co.uk,  info@jonesmyers.co.uk or tweet @helpwithdivorce

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