Pets and Divorce/Separation – Should you have a “Pet-Nup”?

Pets and Divorce/Separation – Should you have a “Pet-Nup”?

6th February 2023

The issue of parties’ pets is increasingly being raised in both Divorce proceedings and negotiations when cohabiting couples separate.  It is widely accepted that people’s pets are extremely important to them and if purchased while a couple are together, but there is no formal document to confirm who the pet belongs to then this can cause issues when the parties separate. Matrimonial Solicitor Natasha Aspinall takes a look at the issue.

In law a pet is classed as a chattel.  A chattel is a piece of personal property or a thing which belongs to you. 

If there is a dispute with your spouse/partner upon separation as to who will keep the family pet we would recommend that you firstly attempt to negotiate directly with them but if this proves unsuccessful then please do come to us for further advice and guidance.  We would suggest mediation as a next stap and only if this were unsuccessful would we suggest court proceedings.  Court proceedings would be a last resort and are very rare in cases concerning pets only. 

To avoid the above situation arising many people are now considering a Pet Nup when purchasing a pet with their spouse/partner.  A Pet Nup is an agreement between the two of you which could specify where the pet lives, who pays for the insurance, who pays the vet bills, who pays for the upkeep, who makes decisions regarding medical treatment and what will happen to the pet if the relationship breaks down.  If such an agreement is drawn up and both parties have obtained legal advise prior to signing the agreement, then if the relationship did break down you would have something to refer back to which would therefore avoid the conflict and issues which can arise at the end of a relationship as to where the pet will go and who the pet will remain with. 

Ways of resolving the issue could be that the non resident owner of the pet could still take a dog for a walk and/or could look after the pet whilst the other party was on holiday.  The parties could even care for the pet for half of the week each so that they were each having an equal amount of time with the pet. 

Anyone with a pet can enter into a Pet Nup be it a married couple, a cohabiting couple, Civil partners, family members or even friends.  As to how legally binding pet nups are, this is similar to pre nups (pre nuptial agreements) and separation agreements in that technically, although the law does not recognise such agreements currently (although this is changing), the Courts are likely to uphold the terms of the pet nup if certain factors are in place. Such factors being:

  1. Proof that the agreement has been entered into freely.
  2. Proof there has been no undue pressure applied or misrepresentation.
  3. Proof that the parties both obtained legal advice.
  4. Proof that the parties intend that the agreement is final in governing what will happen with the pet.
  5. Proof that both parties understand the implications of the Pet Nup
  6. Evidence within the document to confirm that the Pet Nup is fair and in the interests of the Pet. 

The benefits of having a Pet Nup are that it would avoid confusions, disputes and unnecessary stress at an already stressful time of relationship breakdown.  It would also avoid time and money being spent on an emotive subject. 

For further advice please contact our friendly Family & Matrimonial team.