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Your Complete Guide to Pet-Nups

Posted: 3rd July 2023
Written by: Chris Fairhead

Tabby cat with red collar lying next to Bernese Mountain dog puppy in the garden.

Have you ever heard of a pet-nup? Pet-nups, or pet-nuptial agreements, are becoming more popular with couples who had added a furry friend to their household. However, if the relationship breaks down, pets and divorce can be a tricky and emotional subject to navigate. If you and your partner do decide to part ways through divorce or separation, a formulated pet-nup can make the process slightly less stressful and unpredictable.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, pet ownership has been on the rise in the UK. With Covid-19 causing global lockdowns and increased levels of stress, anxiety and isolation,  pets have become even more common additions to households. In fact, a report released in 2021 by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association revealed that since the beginning of the pandemic, 11% of UK households have acquired pets, accounting to roughly 3.2 million new pets!

If you have added a pet to your family and are wondering what to expect if it comes to divorce, read our guide below.


What is a pet-nup?

A pet-nup or pet nuptial agreement is a document much like a pre-nup agreement that details the living arrangements of pets in the event of a divorce or separation. At present, the only way to settle a dispute on the arrangement of pets and their living situation is by filing an application in Court. This can be a severely costly litigation with the added weight of an uncertain outcome. However, pet-nups provide couples with the option of working out and finalising the living situation of their precious pets before the dispute even begins. It is a method of future-proofing the care of your pets and to ensure the best outcome for everyone involved.


Why should I create a pet-nup?

Other than the obvious benefit of having a detailed document that outlines what should happen to your pet in the event that you and your partner choose to get a divorce, pet-nups are also an excellent measure to protect your pet.

Although pets become a part of the family and are often regarded as children, unfortunately in the eyes of the law this is not the case. The Court does not account for the fact that a pet is essentially a family member, and usually would not consider its wellbeing with as high regard as it would that of children.

Therefore, while future-proofing for divorce and pets, it’s a good idea to create a pet arrangement order, such as a pet-nup. This will ensure an amicable settlement of care has been laid out prior to any potentially heated or unpleasant discussions.


Is a pet-nup legally binding?

Pet-nuptial agreements have gained prominence in recent years, especially due to the sudden spike in post-pandemic divorces. According to the Court, a pet-nup is essentially not a legally binding document. However, it is still a document that, if well-planned and details all the essential aspects of the pets living and care arrangements, will be taken into consideration when the Court makes a decision. If a pet-nuptial agreement is not in place, the Court may approach the matter of the pet as it would any other material possession within the marriage.

In this day and age, while divorce and pet-nups go hand-in-hand, there is also the question of pet care in situations where the individuals are not legally married. In such instances, a cohabitation agreement may be considered.


What should a pet-nup include?

A major benefit of a pet-nup is that it is a bespoke document that can be drafted specifically to suit the needs of the individuals and the pets involved. While drafting a pet-nup, it is important to consider including the following factors:

  • Clarify pet custody and ownership as well as how often the other person will get to see the pet
  • Care arrangements
  • Medical care decisions
  • Insurance payments
  • Ongoing veterinary bills
  • Maintenance
  • Food
  • Other day care and breeding expenses

Having all these elements included will ensure the document is as close to a legally-binding document as possible, leaving no room for uncertainty and doubt.


Who owns pets in a divorce?

According to the law, a pet is categorised as a chattel. This is an item of personal property, such as a car or house. Therefore, the individual that bought the pet will be classed as its owner. In the event of a divorce, it can be appropriately argued that the pet must therefore stay with the individual that owns it, irrespective of the relationship built. The exception to this would be in the event that there is clear evidence that the pet was bought as a gift for the other individual in the marriage.

It is also important to consider divorce and pets with relation to children within the marriage. If the separating individuals have children, it is reasonable to assume that the Court will allow the pet to be with the parent that has most time with the child or go back and forth between the two, accompanying the child. This is because children generally have a deep emotional bond with a pet and the Court will always take into consideration the welfare of the children involved. In this case, the care and living arrangements of the pet would have to be in the best interest of the children.

Other circumstances include the transferring of ownership from one individual to the other, as would be the case with other material possessions within the marriage. But a harsher circumstance that the Court has employed in instances where the couple cannot decide among themselves, is for the pet to be sold and the money be split between the two parties. This is an extreme measure and perhaps exercised only in instances when both parties are not keen on keeping the pet. But, it is vital to remember that this could be an option considered by the Court. It is therefore highly recommended that pet-nups are always in place to protect your furry friends.

Chris Fairhead, our specialist family law solicitor further discusses the importance of a pet-nup and how it can assist you during a divorce or separation.

To summarise, yes you can take your ex to Court over a dog, cat or any other pet! The emotional turmoil of dealing with divorce and pets can be overwhelming to say the least, but pet-nups provide an amicable option to settle the care and living conditions of your beloved family member without additional conflict. At Newtons, our divorce and family law team are well-versed in handling difficult and complex cases and you won’t have to go through the stages of divorce alone. We can assist you with specialist legal advice and guidance throughout the entire process. Please contact us today for more information.