Today marks national dog day and pet owners across the globe are celebrating their beloved four legged friends. Many will agree that their pets sit at the heart of the family and more couples are now considering how to resolve the biggest dilemma when a marriage ends: who gets custody of the precious 'fur baby'.
As we detail in our 'Family Law Glossary' a pre-nuptial agreement (or 'pre-nup') is a contract entered into prior to a marriage/civil partnership that seeks to regulate spouses’ affairs in the event that their relationship ends. The use of these agreements have grown rapidly in the UK since the landmark ‘Radmacher’ Supreme Court ruling in 2010, which found that, while pre-nups are not legally binding, they can hold considerable weight in the courts of England and Wales.
Aside from being utilised to protect wealth and assets, pre-nups have evolved since 2010 not only to protect heirlooms and inheritance but also the beloved family pet. As it stands, there are no laws in England & Wales relating specifically to pets upon separation and the courts treat the family pet in the same way as any other personal property and will encourage the parties to reach agreement out of court. It is surprisingly common for couples to state who gets to keep the family pet in their pre-nups and whilst the courts cannot uphold or enforce most of these “pet-nup” clauses, they could enforce contractual agreements to regulate financial matters relating to the pet. This could include costs such as vet bills, insurance and microchipping. They may, if necessary, also consider pet ownership by reference to the intentions evidenced by the contractual agreement.
Pet disputes have made the headlines in a number of acrimonious celebrity break ups and become so common in America that they are the subject of a reality TV series, Pet Divorce Court, which promises “Real barks. Real meows. Real drama.” So for any zealous animal owners it may well be worth taking steps to protect your pooch and avoid an unwanted pug-of-war.
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