The popularity of pets went sky-high during Covid, and a whopping 59%* of the UK population now owns a pet. This equates to 13 million pet dogs and 10 million pet cats enriching our lives and stealing our sofas on a daily basis.
But despite being adored family pets with a place in our hearts like no other, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, tortoises and parrots all have the same legal status as a piece of jewellery or a car. Which means that if a couple divorces or separates, disagreements about who takes the family pet can end up in court.
Divorce or separation is often a very stressful time – and worries over pet ownership can make a difficult situation even worse. It’s really hard to reach agreement about emotional things when financial costs have to be considered – and with a family pet you may have to consider and possibly negotiate visitation rights too. The good news is that careful planning in advance can help alleviate at least some of this worry.
What Is A Pet-Nup?
Pet-nups are a type of prenuptial agreement that specifically details what would happen to a couple’s pet(s) in the event of a divorce or separation. Of course no one enters into marriage with the intention of separating – but having a tricky conversation now about who has the right of ownership if the relationship ever breaks down can save a lot of heartache down the line.
Here are some things to think about:
1. Have you and your partner had a discussion about who would look after your pet if you divorce or separate?
2. If you haven’t, who paid for the pet?
3. Was the pet a gift?
4. What evidence is there to support ownership? Do you have a receipt from the breeder or paperwork from the rescue charity (Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs Home etc)?
5. Who will pay for the dog’s upkeep (food, etc) and any vet / insurance costs?
6. Many couples need help to reach a compromise about the arrangements for their pet. Will you need this support?
Do I Really Need A Pet-Nup?
In legal terms, pets are considered to be chattels (personal possessions), so this is how the court will treat them. Chattels are items that are moveable – some obvious examples include furniture, photographs, jewellery but the definition is quite wide and also includes vehicles and pets.
In divorce cases, the courts naturally tend to focus on matters involving finances and the care of any children, rather than on family pets. Should you ever get divorced or separate, having a pet-nup in place will give you peace of mind about how your pet will be looked after – and will prevent any confusion or difficulties down the line.
A pet-nup is essentially a pet-related version of a pre-nuptial agreement. It will outline the arrangements for your pet and will be subject to contract principles. If you are considering entering a pre-nuptial agreement, a reference can be made to your dog within this agreement. Otherwise, you can get a standalone pet-nup written when you acquire a pet.
It’s important to point out that pet-nups specifically relate to married people. If you have no plans to marry it’s worth thinking about a co-habitation agreement. This is a legal agreement that sets out who owns what and in what proportion in a relationship (eg a property) and can include provision for your pets.
I got my current cat as a birthday gift from my ex. When we divorced he wanted to take her, but she was a gift and I’m the one who signed the adoption papers so he knew he didn’t have a chance in hell of getting her.Tracey G.
How Can I Get at Pet-Nup?
If you want to discuss how to go about getting a pet-nup for your family, the friendly team at Eric Robinson Solicitors are available for a no-obligation chat on 02380 218000. Their mission is to ‘make law, make sense’, which means no legal jargon, just straightforward, accessible advice to help you decide what’s right for you and your family.
As a firm of dog lovers – and as part of their mission to simplify the law for everyone – Eric Robinson Solicitors recently sponsored Dogstival, a weekend festival for dogs and their owners in the New Forest.
As part of their sponsorship, for every pet-nup written for event attendees, they donated £20 to Support Dogs, one of the event’s official charities. We think this is great – and they’ve offered the same charity donation for any pet-nups written for your our Ruffle Snuffle Life with Pets’ readers – simply mention the offer when you call them.
We’re always thrilled to shine a light on appropriate charities, so here’s some background on Support Dogs:
Support Dogs (registered charity number 1088281) is a national charity dedicated to increasing independence and quality of life for people with various medical conditions. They provide, train and support specialist assistance dogs to achieve this.
They specialise in three specific programmes:
Autism assistance dogs for children with autism. The dogs are trained to provide safety for the child and reduce stress in social environments.
Seizure alert dogs for people with epilepsy. Their dogs are trained to provide a 100% reliable, up to 50 minute warning prior to the onset of an epileptic seizure. This enables the client to find safety and be in control over their seizure, allowing a much more independent life.
Disability assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities. The client’s own pet dog is trained to perform tasks that are specifically tailored to their individual needs, providing them with greater independence and safety.
Support Dogs are one of the founder members of Assistance Dogs UK, which provides a kite mark of excellence in assistance dog training. All ADUK dogs adhere to the highest training and welfare standards as set out by Assistance Dogs International and the International Guide Dogs Federation.
We were interested to learn that one in four of the dogs that Support Dogs train come to them from rescue centres or as unwanted pets. So anyone who takes out a pet-nup with Eric Robinson Solicitors will be doing what’s best for their pets and giving themselves peace of mind, while at the same time helping a charity deliver greater quality of life to people with medical conditions and giving a new lease of life to unwanted pets. We think it’s a win-win!
* data supplied by Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data