What is a pet-nup agreement?

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a rise in the number of households getting a family pet. However, the pandemic has also sparked an increase in break-ups and divorces. When a relationship breaks down, what happens to the family pet? With more disputes over pet ownership, pet-nup agreements are increasingly common.

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 3.2 million pets have been bought by households during the pandemic. However, with the rise in separations and divorces during each of the lockdowns, disputes over who gets to keep the pet(s) are on the up – along with pet-nup agreements.

In fact, disputes over ‘pet custody’ have become so commonplace that they are now a regular feature in divorce proceedings. A report published by Blue Cross in 2014 showed that 1 in 4 divorces involved disputes about pets.

The pet problem for family courts

The single biggest issue for the Family Court when presiding over separation proceedings involving pets tends to be cases where couples have no children. Under these circumstances, a couple may have heavily invested in a pet on an emotional level. If they were to lose that pet it could be a deeply traumatic experience.

Divorce and separation cases involving children and pets are arguably more straightforward. If a pet is attached to a child, it’s more than likely that the pet will go with whoever is awarded custody of the children.

In cases where there are no children, pets will be treated as ‘property’ by a Family Court judge, in the same way that the contents of a house would be. However, a judge would take into consideration any previous circumstances, for example if a pet belonged to a particular individual prior to a couple getting together or getting married.

If a pet was owned by one individual before entering into a relationship, it’s likely that a judge would rule in favour of that person keeping the pet, regardless of how much time and energy the other person had invested.

However, a judge may tell a couple to decide for themselves on who gets the pet. If an agreement can’t be reached, a judge could order a pet to be sold and the proceeds divided between each party.

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Is it worth having a pet-nup agreement?

If you want to avoid any kind of dispute over who gets a pet following a relationship breakdown, a pet-nup agreement is worth having. A pet-nup agreement is a written record of who gets to keep the family pet should a relationship breakdown.

Such a record is often used as evidence in the Family Court to show that there is an existing agreement in place. This helps a judge to determine what happens to a family pet in the event of a divorce or separation.

However, you should be aware that a pet-nup agreement is not legally binding and their validity can be disputed by the other party. While they do give you some form of evidence that an agreement was put in place, it doesn’t change the fact that a pet will still be treated as property by the Family Court.

A pet-nup agreement can cause further disputes. Meanwhile, a Court may decide that since a written agreement was made, circumstances may have changed, meaning the agreement is no longer valid and can’t be upheld.

Talk to Holland Family Law about a pet-nup agreement

If you want to protect the ownership of your pet following a relationship breakdown, reach out to Holland Family Law. We specialise in all divorce and separation-related matters, including pet disputes.

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