As of May 2022, slightly over 59% of UK households own a pet. This equates to roughly 17 million households and 34 million domestic animals within these households. Unfortunately, with the rise in divorce rates, we have seen a rise in disputes regarding what happens to the family pet(s).
Although we can have strong sentimental attachments to our pets, they are viewed by the Court as “chattels” (personal property) and therefore are treated as such during divorce proceedings. This means that unlike with children, pet “parents” do not have a right to a relationship with their pets.
What is a “Pet-nuptial” Agreement?
If you are planning on getting a prenuptial agreement, then it may be wise to include provisions for the care and costs of any current and/or future pets. Within the prenuptial agreement, you can define who would keep the pet(s), how you would split care and how costs would be met.
If you are not getting a prenuptial agreement, however, then you may consider getting a “pet-nuptial agreement”, which is similar to a prenuptial agreement but addresses only the pets. The pet-nup will set out who the pet lives with, who covers the costs and any other relevant matters in relation to the pet. By signing a pet-nup the party maintaining custody of the pet is agreeing to follow the laws and welfare needs set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, including the provision for a suitable living environment and diet, the enabling to exhibit normal behavioural patterns and the protection from pain, suffering and disease. Similarly to a prenuptial agreement, a pet-nup is not legally binding in Court but will be taken into consideration when determining the final orders.
What is the best way to decide on who keeps the pet in the absence of a formal agreement?
The most advisable way to decide on who keeps the pet is through mediation and in avoidance of Court. You may decide that one party keeps the pet full time, or that the pet goes between the houses with the children. You may also decide to split any costs associated with pet or for the party with predominant residence to cover all costs. Agreeing outside of Court will be a quicker and less expensive way to make these decisions.
What will Court consider if the parties cannot agree?
In the event that there is no prenuptial or pet-nup agreement addressing the future care of the pet and the divorcing parties cannot come to a mutual agreement on the matter, the Court may decide. The Court will likely take the view that as a pet is classed as a chattel, the party who bought the pet and who is registered as the owner will maintain ownership. If these facts are disputed, the Court will likely consider who is registered on the microchip, pet insurance and at the vet, in addition to who purchases pet food and who looks after it on a daily basis (i.e. Feeding, taking on walks, cleaning up after, etc.).
What if the pet was a gift?
Generally, if the pet was clearly purchased as a gift to the other party then it will likely remain with the other party. Equally, if the pet was clearly purchased as a gift to a child, then the pet will likely remain with the child and whichever parent they live with.
Despite pets being viewed as chattels within the legal system, we often have significant attachments to them and see them as part of the family. It can be both emotional and stressful to contemplate losing care of them in the event of a divorce, which can further add to the heartache. Therefore, it is best to have an idea of how you and your spouse may choose to deal with the pets in such an event, and be prepared by way of a pre or pet nuptial agreement.
Do you have more questions about any of the above points or see yourself requiring the help of a specialist to deal with a family law matter? We are here for you so get in touch today and together we can make sure you are in a good and secure position.