August 20, 2015

‘Pet nups’ on the rise – how to avoid a tug-of-love


High profile celebrity divorces are prompting more people ask the question, ‘Who gets    custody of the pets if we break up?’.

According to recent research, one in 14 couples now have a formal pet nup contract in place agreeing what happens to their pets should they split.

While the figures may be somewhat overstated, Britain has enjoyed the reputation of being a nation of pet lovers for many years – and responsible pet owners do tend to think more about the fate of their beloved pooch or moggy should the worst – death, disaster and divorce – happen. As such, they plan and provide for pets accordingly, in a way hitherto reserved solely for children.

Pets are often regarded as family members and, just as with families, the best policy is always to avoid a bitter tug-of-love if at all possible – saving time, money, distress, rancour and emotional expenditure.

As a general rule of thumb, the sensible ‘default setting’ for families is that all animals stay with the children. A huge benefit of this principle is that not being parted from beloved pets can help youngsters enormously in coming to terms with their parents’ split – something that is likely to strike a chord with any sensitive, loving parent.

But what if there are no children? What if one party is already aggrieved at having less access to pets? What if neither partner wants the pet fulltime (if, say, they have demanding jobs or travel widely) and feel that responsibility for the pet should be shared? Perhaps one lives in rented accommodation, where pets aren’t allowed, but still wants visiting rights?

Anecdotally, it seems that whereas more women used keep the family pets compared to men, there is now a growing resistance to this.

A pet nup is the pet equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement and can help to avoid anguish in the event of relationship breakdowns. Here are some key issues for consideration if this situation arises:

1. Whatever the emotional investment, the law regards a dog or cat as goods and chattels. It is therefore better to try and reach an amicable decision over who has the pet than get embroiled in a courtroom battle.

2. Always make the best interests of the children a top priority. Remember that pets can be comforting and therapeutic and that a dog or cat can be a vital ‘comfort blanket’ for a child during a separation or divorce – providing unconditional love, security and an anchor through difficult times.

3. Try to avoid the family pet becoming the focus of confrontation and resentment, whether this entails one party unhappy at being dumped with responsibility for it or another resenting their faithful friend sharing a home with an ex’s new partner.

4. Courts may consider key issues such as who takes care of the pet’s daily needs such as feeding, walking, grooming veterinary care.

5. Courts will also take into consideration who owned the pet in the first instance.

Finally, if ownership of a pet is being transferred, aim to keep their routine as close to normal as possible as animals can also be affected by the separation of the family.

If you have any comments, queries or concerns on divorce related issues, leave a comment below, call the team at Jones Myers on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce