The question of “who gets the dog” has become a more common question upon separation for Judges and divorce lawyers. Has the time come for couples to consider ‘pet-nuptial’ agreements?
As has been seen with the recent multi-million pound celebrity divorce of Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong, the focus can sometimes fall on the family pet and who should retain custody of the pet after separation.
Often when couples separate they are able to agree about who gets what, by way of division of any joint assets. They are also frequently able to agree on when the children will spend time with each parent. However, often they are not able to agree on who gets to keep the family pet. Some divorcing couples have said that this question can be almost as stressful as deciding who the children should live with.
Close emotional bonds are usually formed with family pets, and they are seen as equal members of the family. These bonds mean that no-one wants to say goodbye to the pet. There can be passionate arguments about who should retain possession – even more than arguments over the contents of the family home. More and more couples are ending up in court fighting over access rights to the family pet. There have even been demands for pet maintenance.
The fact is that under English law, family pets are typically treated as property and the courts therefore apply property law.
A different approach is taken in other countries such as the United States, where a legal test based on the best interests of the animal is used alongside property law when estranged couples argue over their beloved pets. Should English law call for a greater focus on the best interests of the animals which are caught up in pet custody disputes?
Statistics show that more and more pet owners are considering signing pre-nuptial agreements to include their pet – the aforementioned ‘pet-nuptial’. This is a legally-binding document outlining what would happen to the family pet if they were to split up, in order to avoid custodial battles.
If you need advice or assistance in respect of the division of the family assets upon separation or are considering a pre-nuptial agreement, please contact one of our experienced and specialist finances lawyers.