Today is National Pet Day; a day to celebrate our much loved family pets. With pet ownership on the rise following the pandemic, pets are increasingly becoming part of our families and are therefore a growing consideration for couples when it comes to divorce and separation.
Whilst many consider their pets to be their babies, sadly the law does not view our pets in the same way. Instead, under current UK law, pets are treated as personal property, in the same way as household contents. As such, often the Courts are very reluctant to get involved in disagreements in relation to who they should live with and who should be responsible for meeting their costs (e.g. food, vet bills, insurance, etc.)
As the owner of a much loved pup myself, and as many pet owners will know, pets are typically treated more like children of the family than as furniture. However, unlike children, the animal’s welfare is not something that the Court has to have any regard to and as a result, arrangements for pets will often be left to the couple to agree. If there is a dispute that they are unable to resolve, historically Judges have based their decisions on who originally purchased the animal and is their registered owner. This often entirely disregards the central role our pets have in our lives.
Some US states, such as Alaska and Illinois, have gone as far as introducing specific legislation to require Courts to consider the well-being of pets, taking into account who cares for the animal(s) and who can meet their day to day needs. Whilst this approach has not been introduced in the UK, I would expect that many fellow pet lovers would welcome this approach.
This gap in the current legislation is resulting in couples increasingly entering into “shared care agreements” for their pets (often referred to as “pet-nups”). It was widely reported that Ant McPartlin and his ex-wife Lisa share care of their dog, Hurley following their divorce (although more recent reports suggest that Lisa has requested a change to this arrangement).
These agreements provide couples with a way to clearly set out their intentions for any pets they may have or may welcome into their family, ensuring everyone is clear on what is expected and what would happen with these important family members if the relationship were to breakdown. These agreements can be discussed and agreed between yourselves, through mediation, or with the assistance of a solicitor.
Owning a pet can be very stressful and being clear from the outset about what is required and who will do what can really help couples to ensure that welcoming a new animal into their lives is as positive as it can be.
Afterall, it is often far better to be upfront about these things and agree arrangements for pets at the start of your relationship or before the pet is introduced, rather than at the end when tensions may be heightened.
If you would like any assistance from our pet loving team about how best to manage the arrangements for your fur-babies then please do not hesitate to get in touch, we’d be happy to help.