couple walking dog in forest

Couples are being advised to spare themselves unnecessary heartache in the event of a relationship breakdown, by creating a ‘pet-nuptial’ agreement with their partner.

For those going through a divorce, discussing what happens to the pets is one of the hardest challenges. When it comes to pet custody, there is currently no official legally binding measures in place. Pets are seen as assets, meaning ownership is decided by the court, however, having a prearranged agreement in place can assist the court in making a decision.

To decide the future home of a pet during a divorce, couples can include a clause in a wider prenuptial agreement regarding ownership of an animal in the same way they can for material goods such as furniture or a TV. Although pre-nups are not legally binding in the UK, they will be taken into consideration by the court.

Joint custody is not advised by animal charities such as The Blue Cross or the Kennel Club as it can be unsettling and negatively affect their wellbeing. Also splitting up animals that have lived together a long time is not advised. It is suggested that one primary caregiver is chosen upon adopting, with a pet-nup clause outlining who this will be and what the duty of care will entail.

Emma Darley, family law executive at JMP Solicitors, says, “Pets are part of the family, so it is important to implement safeguarding in case of an eventual relationship breakdown to ensure you, your family and your pet are put through the least amount of distress possible.

“Once divorce proceedings begin, the custody of the pet is in the hands of the court. They will look at a number of factors such as who can best meet the animal’s needs, who has the most suitable home and what is best for the animal.

“A pet-nup clause can have a significant impact on any decision the court is asked to make and sets out the intentions of the parties prior to marriage. It can outline custody agreements, as well as financial responsibilities such as veterinary and grooming bills. Whilst it is not officially binding, it is certainly an influential factor in deciding what happens to your pets.

“When drafting the agreement, it’s important to bear in mind what would be best for the animal – agreed primary owners must adhere to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and agree to be responsible for caring for the animal in all eventualities.”


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