Who Gets the Cat? Relationship Breakdown and the Pet Nup

by Daniel Sims, Solicitor, Family Department

Pet nup

Congratulations to 6 year old Jayden, the winner of our drawing competition whose picture is used on this article.

Daniel Sims Fraser DawbarnsWe often call ourselves a nation of animal lovers, but our devotion to our four legged friends can lead to emotional and expensive disputes if a marriage or relationship breaks down, and there is no agreement as to who will have ‘custody’ of the pet.

Research has estimated that up to 20% of separation and divorce cases have involved a pet dispute, and this can be a big issue, particularly where a couple do not have children, and so attach huge value to their animals.

Reaching agreement about what will happen to the pet should be attempted through correspondence, or through mediation, but the last resort for resolving a dispute will be through Court proceedings.

Some states in America have enacted laws that allows Judges to consider the emotional well-being of an animal, when deciding with which partner they should live – ‘shared care’ can also be directed. Unfortunately the law in England and Wales is not quite as progressive, and the law will strictly regard a pet as a personal possession or ‘chattel’.  The Court may not give consideration to what is in the animal’s ‘best interests’, in terms of who could provide a better home, but may take a more detached view, asking who initially bought the pet, and who has since been paying for the insurance and vet bills, who the pet is registered to etc. Court proceedings always come at a cost – financial and emotional – but it is never possible to predict what the outcome of a case will be.

It is always advisable to try and avoid Court proceedings, and this is where a ‘Pet Nup’ can come into play.

As with the more popular ‘Pre Nup’, this is an agreement that a couple would enter into at an earlier time, which would set out the arrangements for the animal should the marriage/relationship breakdown in the future, recording where the pet would live, how often the other partner will see the animal, who would pay for the insurance and vet bills, who would make decisions on medical treatment etc. Animal charity the Blue Cross actively encourages couples to consider entering into a ‘Pet Nup’, to try and avoid the stress and heartache over disputes further down the line.

At the current time, such agreement could not be guaranteed as being legally binding, but if both partners freely entered into the agreement, took legal advice and the arrangements seemed fair, there would be a strong argument that the arrangements contained within should be upheld if the parties later separated.

Discussing what will happen if a relationship or marriage comes to an end is never a romantic topic to raise, but it may well reduce stress, and save time and money, in the unfortunate event of a separation or divorce.