Who will care for our pet when we divorce?
During the Covid pandemic, people purchasing pets, particularly puppies, is reported to have increased to record levels. As families spend more time at home, going on holiday in the UK and working from home, many families have opted to buy a pet as an addition to their family and to offer some cheer.
However, when a relationship breaks down, difficult decisions very often must be taken with regards to who will care for their pet upon separation. Sadly, this can commonly lead to added animosity and enhanced emotional distress at an already difficult period. More recently, the initial cost of purchasing a puppy has increased significantly, often several thousands of pounds and this is another factor to bear in mind when a relationship breaks down.
More commonly nowadays, couples are choosing to provide for their pet, not only on the event of their death within their Will, but also to provide for their pet should the relationship break down. To avoid unnecessary dispute, couples are entering into a Pet Nup, which clearly sets out what provisions you have reached to provide for your pet, should you and your partner separate. This reduces the heartache of deciding or often arguing over who will secure the care of the pet upon your separation. By entering into a Pet Nup this also reduces the cost of any legal advice that is required to deal with this unresolved issue, which can often lead to costly court proceedings.
Whilst court proceedings issued at Court purely to deal with the issue of who a pet should live with is rare, it is becoming a more common occurrence and certainly is another issue for the Court to address when determining a settlement upon separation. It often leads to couples spending hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds on legal fees dealing with this important issue upon their separation. It is therefore sensible that couples consider a Pet Nup from the outset, whilst they are on amicable terms and to make decisions to provide for their pet jointly, should the worst happen, and their relationship come to an end.
If my partner and I cannot decide where our pet should live when we divorce, how can we resolve this issue?
If a Pet Nup has not been entered into then it is best, as with all disputes, to try to negotiate with your partner to avoid the need to involve third parties such as lawyers. However, if negotiations fail and you are not able to deal with matters directly with your partner, then it is appropriate that you seek legal advice, particularly if you have a solicitor assisting you with your divorce/separation and financial matters. A solicitor will try to enter negotiations with your partner or their lawyers, with a view to resolving the matter at limited costs and to reduce unnecessary animosity surrounding this issue. If, however, an agreement cannot be reached, either through direct negotiations or with the assistance of your solicitor, then you should attend Mediation as an alternate dispute resolution, this is with a view to avoiding issuing Court proceedings at all costs.
If, however, negotiations and Mediation fail, then an application to the Court may be your only alternative. Court proceedings to deal discreetly with any issues surrounding division of pets should be avoided where possible, but often proceedings are issued to address financial matters, and this can include who should be granted care of your pet. Court proceedings are the last resort and can be costly and can enhance what may already be a difficult situation and therefore, a Pet Nup would help prevent the need for Court proceedings or even negotiations to take place at all.
How much will it cost to apply to the Court to deal with who should care for my pet during my Divorce?
Attempts to settle are always the best way in terms of reducing delay and costs, but if that is not an option then Court proceedings are required, often to deal with overall financial matters. If that is necessary legal costs can increase considerably, and can on occasions, run to several thousand pounds, depending on the level of dispute between you and your partner, especially if the Court is required to make the final decision and an agreement is not possible during the process. Such specific costs information will be supplied by your solicitor based on your individual circumstances. However, the cost of preparing a Pet Nup is significantly lower than running the risk of seeking legal advice and the associated costs if your relationship breaks down, particularly legal advice which involves an application to the Court. Therefore, planning ahead and reaching a decision regarding your pet should be considered during the relationship to help ease future difficulties and unnecessary expense.
How does the Court decide where our pet should live?
As a result of divorce and separation, whilst it may seem unfair, pets are not treated by the Court in the same way that the Court would decide an outcome for a child, even though close attachments will have been formed. The Court views a pet as it would view a piece of personal property that belongs to one of the parties in the relationship. Such as when the Court would consider dividing furniture or a television for example, and therefore, this can be very upsetting when deciding who should care for your pet. The Court would consider issues similar to those that would be considered when dealing with division of household contents. This can cause added distress when a pet is treated as part of the family. The Court would consider factors such as who had purchased the pet, who had provided for the cost at the time of purchase and paid associated costs, such as vet fees and pet insurance. The Court would also consider factors such as to whom your pet is registered. Whilst the Court may also consider living arrangements, such as who would be available to care for the pet when the other person may be at work, the Court does not decide the outcome of where a pet should live based on the same criteria to that of the law in children proceedings.
If I wanted to enter a Pet Nup, how do I do this?
The first thing to consider is what you would like to be included in the document, setting out arrangements while you are together, as well as stating what should happen should you separate and the relationship breaks down. It would be sensible to provide a list of matters you want to take into account, such as where your pet should live during the relationship, who should pay for vet fees and whether decisions about medical treatment should be taken solely by one person or jointly as a couple. You should consider matters such as the cost of pet insurance on a monthly basis and who should be responsible for this, as well as other costs such as day to day expenses, such as food, dog walker fees and general expenses.
The Pet Nup should provide clearly what decision you have taken together regarding full time care of your pet and provision for the other person to see and spend time with the pet, should your relationship come to an end. This could include how often the person with whom the pet is no longer living should be permitted to take the dog for a walk, or to provide care during holiday periods. The Pet Nup can be drafted to meet your individual circumstances and your joint intentions, with a view to set out clearly as much as possible with regards to what decisions you wish to take solely, or jointly regarding care of your pet and the expenses relating to your pet during your relationship and should it end.
Are Pet Nups legally binding?
The Court upon separation and divorce, would view a Pet Nup in a similar way to how the Court views a Prenuptial agreement (Prenup) which sets out the agreement between married couples regarding their financial affairs or as it considers a Separation Agreement. In short, the law in England and Wales does not recognise a Pet Nup as a legally binding document but provided that the Pet Nup satisfies certain factors, then it is more likely that the Court would uphold the terms of the Pet Nup in the event of a separation and a dispute surrounding where the pet should live, should one party wish to change their mind about the terms of the Pet Nup.
Such considerations of the Court include whether the parties who have entered into the Pet Nup obtained independent legal advice upon the terms of the agreement, whether the Pet Nup has been entered into freely and without any pressure on the other to enter into the agreement and also provided that the Pet Nup clearly intends to set out the final decision between you about what would happen to your pet, should you separate.
Subject to the above conditions, the Court would also consider whether the Pet Nup is fair and represents the interests of the pet and so long as both parties to the Pet Nup are clear upon the intention and outcome of the Pet Nup when they signed it.
Who can obtain a Pet Nup?
A Pet Nup is available to any couple who have bought a pet and wish to provide for the pet in making arrangements for their pet during and in the event of a breakdown of the relationship. Therefore, this would extend to married couples, cohabitees, civil partners and can also be available to family and friends who may own a pet, or care for a pet together.
Should you wish to seek legal advice regarding a Pet Nup then we would be happy to assist and offer legal advice. We also recommend that you refer to the Blue Cross website, which helps set out an example of a typical Pet Nup and explains how it can be used to benefit your individual circumstances. Most certainly, entering into a Pet Nup avoids unnecessary disagreement and uncertainty, as well as avoiding the legal costs and heartache of spending time and legal fees dealing with such an emotional matter at an already difficult time.
Get in touch with our specialist family law solicitors in Newport for helpful advice and support for when things go wrong in your family life. We can help you find a way forward and reach a positive solution.