Pets and Divorce – Who Keeps the Family Pet if You Separate?
Recently the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association released its annual pet population report (based on its sample of pet owners) which confirmed that over 3 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
That means there are now an astonishing 17 million households across the UK responsible for a pet’s welfare – and over a third of new owners claimed that having a new pet was like having a new baby! Naturally pets become a very important feature of family life, but if their owners decide to separate it can inevitably lead to disputes as to who gets to keep them.
What’s more, with divorce enquiries also expected to rise because of the pandemic, there will understandably be many pet owners now worrying what they can do to ensure their pets are cared for should a relationship break-up occur.
In this article we look at the legal aspect of pet custody after breakup and what kind of agreement can be put in place to avoid future disputes.
What happens to pets in a divorce?
Just how are pets treated in law? An animal is treated as a chattel. A chattel you say, what is that? It is a funny word that covers a host of things that a person can own.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word as “a piece of personal property, including something that can be moved, or rights such as copyright and patents, but not usually including land and buildings”.
Interestingly human slaves were considered chattels until slavery was abolished. Here are some other examples of chattels:
So, in essence there is no difference in law between a pet and a table and chairs, and who owns it will come down to who acquired the chattel and how. Chattels are very rarely jointly acquired.
Disputes over chattels are discouraged by the family courts as it can lead to excessive costs over items that hold no meaningful monetary value but are meaningful to the parties.
However, where disputes do arise, the court’s decision as to who gets to keep the pet generally comes down to who purchased the pet, in whose name is it registered or whose name is on the microchip. Other factors include who has paid for the pet’s maintenance & care such as food, veterinary bills & insurance etc.
The only exception to the ruling would be if it could be demonstrated that the pet was given as a gift.
The best way to ensure that there are no disputes, is to be sensible and agree an outcome for your pet or pets either in a pre-nuptial, post nuptial or cohabitation agreement.
What is a pet-nup?
In recent years, family law firms have had to deal with more and more separation disputes over pet ownership and they’re now a common feature in many divorce proceedings.
In fact around a quarter of divorce cases now involve the custody of a pet, an issue recently made very public in the popular media due to the custody battle between Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong over their dog Hurley.
As a result, to avoid conflict more and more pet owners are now using pre-nups to specifically protect their pets, just as they would their most valuable assets.
Indeed, there have been quite a few articles in the mainstream media recently about people taking out so called ‘pet nups’, or pet-nup agreements, to ensure the ownership of family pets is settled in the event of a relationship breakdown.
So, is there actually such a thing as a pet-nup?
Well, no not really, not an actual legal document.
A “Pet-nup” is simply the pet equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement that is aimed more specifically at pet custody & welfare.
Can I get a pet-nup?
Many couples put agreements in place to protect their most valuable and cherished assets, and instinctively pet owners also want to think about the welfare of their beloved pets to help avoid heartache and dispute should the relationship come to an end.
You can have an agreement drawn up if you acquire a new pet or have an existing agreement amended to include the pet as part of the distribution of personal possessions.
“Who gets the pet clauses” are often drafted by lawyers into either pre-nuptial, post nuptial or even cohabitation agreements, depending on the relationship status of the pet owners. These agreements can deal with a single issue such as a pet or be more comprehensive, dealing with a wider range of property and possessions.
How can Divorce-Online help you today?
A straightforward prenuptial agreement can be created for little cost here at Divorce-Online, helping you save over £1,000 compared to having a high street solicitor draft your prenuptial agreement.
A professionally drafted prenuptial agreement is always looked upon favourably by UK courts in the event of a divorce. If you would like free advice before using our Prenuptial Agreement Service please call us for a free consultation on 01793 384 029 or email us today
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