Press coverage of recent celebrity break-ups has shone the spotlight again on the issue of pet custody following divorce and separation. Ant McPartlin’s split from Lisa Armstrong for example was – according to reports – significantly complicated by the estranged couple’s inability to agree who should get to keep their dog, Hurley.

Avoiding this type of disagreement is one reason why we have seen a rise in so-called pet nuptial agreements. Here we answer some common questions about ‘petnups’ and how they can be used.

Do I need a petnup?

No one is required to take out a petnup. But as recent cases show, dealing with a dispute over pet custody during divorce can lengthen proceedings – and increase the cost of securing a settlement. With research from animal charity Blue Cross showing that one in four divorces involve a pet dispute it’s perhaps not surprising that the Law Society has recently recommended that couples with pets enter petnups to provide peace of mind and clarity should the relationship fail.

What’s the difference between a prenup and a petnup?

Pre nuptial agreements are increasingly used in England and Wales and we have written about the formalities required to ensure a prenup is binding. Often a prenuptial agreement will have references to pets and what should happen to them in the event of divorce. But more and more, the issue of pet custody is dealt with separately in a petnup.

What type of clauses does a petnup contain?

An agreement like this can be as detailed as you wish. Typical provisions will cover issues like:

  • Day-to-day care of pet
  • Legal ownership
  • Is residence of pet to be shared?
  • Pet’s diet
  • Responsibility for cost of pet, including vet bills
  • Whether pet can be bred?
  • Owner holidays and care of pet in kennels or other accommodation

Will the courts uphold a petnup?

From a strictly legal perspective pets are considered to be personal chattels or personal property. In simple terms this means whoever paid for the pet and registered it, owns it. It follows therefore that a court doesn’t have the power to enforce terms relating to pet contact. And some details of a petnup may not be enforced by a court (for example judges are unlikely to engage in issues about pet holidays or some other aspects of a pet’s care). However, as a legal contract, a petnup will be recognised by the courts in principle. It makes sense to make a petnup as comprehensive as possible to reduce the potential for dispute.

For some pet and non-pet owners the idea of a legal agreement covering pet custody may seem trivial. Bit it’s hard to underestimate the value some people attach to their pets. It was reported that following her divorce from Johnny Depp, actress Amber Heard gave away her million pound settlement to charity but insisted on keeping the two dogs the couple had owned.

If you’d like advice on petnups or more general advice on prenuptial agreements please call on 44 (0) 20 7430 8470 or contact us online.

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