If you and your partner were to separate, have you ever wondered what would happen to the family pets?
Research shows that as many as one in four divorce cases include a dispute over a pet.
Pets are often an important member of the family so how would a court look at who should get the dog, cat or even Snuffles the guinea pig?
The court looks at a pet as a ‘Chattel’, that is a possession, much like the TV or three piece suite.
So, where the court can look at what is best for a child in deciding where the child should live, with pets the court will look at strict ownership.
The court can have regard for many factors when considering the pet, such as who bought it and who actually looked after it. In cases where rights in relation to dogs are in dispute, the Kennel Club registration could be looked at.
There is always the risk that if no decision can be made who owns the pet, the court could decide simply that the pet is jointly owned and in the absence of an agreement on who should have it simply order that the pet is sold and the proceeds of sale be divided equally. Obviously an outcome that would be unfavorable to all concerned including the pet!
Another alternative could be shared ownership dividing up the time a pet spends with each owner, but the Court does not have the power to order contact to a pet.
Although some Judges want nothing to do with an argument over pets and will refuse to deal with it within the divorce process, there is a precedent for this type of matter.
In a case called RK v RK in 2011 a wife asked the court to make an order about ownership of one of the family’s dogs. Unfortunately for the wife, the Judge decided that the husband was mainly responsible for looking after it.
So instead of leaving matters to fate, or in the hands of a Judge, people might wish to consider a Pet Nup – a pre nuptial agreement that deals with what should happen to Monty the labrador, Tiddles the tabby or the aforementioned Snuffles if the owners should separate.
This can help bring peace of mind and potentially reduce the stress and cost out of a relationship breakdown with a clearly defined agreement determining the outcome of one of the many issues.
For those already married a ‘Pet Post Nup’ can be drawn up. This is similar to prenuptial the only difference being a postnuptial agreement is made during the marriage rather than before it.
It is important to remember pets are not the only thing that can be included in a prenuptial agreement, all assets can be provided for allowing marrying couples to set out their financial affairs.
It is really important to take legal advice before entering into a prenuptial agreement. Currently the law does not automatically recognise them, and there are strict guidelines to follow if they are going to be effective, but if drawn up correctly they can be very persuasive documents, provided that they are fair.
Whilst they may seem unromantic, they are really just part of any family’s prudent financial planning.
lLiza Pickles is a Paralegal and Mediator with Wilkinson Woodward Bearders Solicitors, with over 25 years’ experience working in family law.