Paws for thought and include claws: why pet-nups should be considered

With 62% of the UK population reportedly owning a pet, it is no wonder more and more couples are being advised to take out “pet-nup” agreements to prevent custody battles over their beloved dogs and cats if they split up.

With around 30,000 divorce cases involving animals each year, according to a report from Direct Line Pet Insurance, many separating couples are finding themselves disagreeing over who should keep their pet – leading to costly and emotionally distressing court battles. “Pet-nups” are designed to avoid this. But would this be helpful for all families, including those with an international element? Or would a “pet-nup” complicate things even further?

The Blue Cross recommends a number of measures pet owners should consider before they draw up their pet-nup. Depending on the pet and the circumstances, the overall advice seems to be that shared custody is not usually recommended as it can be disruptive and stressful to a pet’s routine to be constantly moving between homes and straying from their usual routine. Some dogs, for example, might be able to get used to a shared living arrangement, but it needs careful thought around exercise schedule and food to make sure there is continuity. Organising visits is the suggested alternative and the pet-nup can dictate who will have custody of the pet and how often and when visits can take place.

It is also advisable to think about how the financial matters related to the pet will be divided if the couple splits. Vet’s bills can prove very costly, and it is important that clients thinking about a pet-nup consider how any significant financial commitments would be split in the future.

A pet-nup can make it easier for a judge to decide what to do with pets in a divorce

It is worth reminding clients, however, that although pet-nups are growing in popularity, they’re not legally binding, and disagreements and problems can still arise.

Take, for example if one person wants to move abroad and take the pet with them – there’s nothing really stopping this from happening.

However, if a pet-nup was in existence, it can make it easier for a judge to decide what to do with pets in a divorce. Something that still surprises many people is that pets are considered property by law, so there aren’t any special legislative provisions deciding what should happen to the family dog, and upsettingly for many families, disputes could lead to the dog being treated by the judge as any other shared possession. This means the court could order the dog is sold and the proceeds split, or one party buys the other’s share of the dog, if an agreement can’t be reached. However, this is only really only applicable to pedigree pets with a clear monetary value.

With more than 3.2 million pets being bought during lockdown, it is likely we are set to see more divorce disputes involving bitter arguments over who gets to keep the beloved dog or cat. Pet-nups can be one way to help guide these conversations and ensure the negotiations are successful.

Iwona Durlak, family partner and co-founder of IMD Solicitors.

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.