Hounded! Who keeps the dog?
It is becoming increasingly popular for millennials to opt for a pet before having a baby. With the average age of first time mothers and fathers at 30 and 33 respectively, a new demographic of young pet owners has emerged. This has increased the percentage of UK pet owners to a staggering 50%.
It is currently estimated that there are 10.9 million cats and 9.9 million dogs living in the UK. These pets are arguably admired and anthropomorphised more so than ever – possibly due to the growing trend of trading baby bottles for dog bowls.
A combination of these factors has resulted in an increasing number of disputes over the family pet during relationships and in divorce and separation proceedings.
When dealing with disputes between pet owners, the word ‘owner’ is crucial. Under the law in England and Wales, a pet comes under the definition of a ‘chattel’ and would therefore be dealt with in the same way as any other asset. Should such a dispute reach the court, a judge would consider any monetary contributions from either party to fund the purchase and care of the pet in their judgment.
In an attempt to mitigate arguments during a relationship/marriage/divorce/separation, an increasing number of couples are entering into Pet Nup agreements. These, in practice, are very similar to parenting plans and allow couples to determine how a pet is cared for. The agreement can be as exhaustive as a couple require and tailored to include how the pet should be trained, exercised, groomed, insured, bred, vetted, chipped and even buried. Most importantly, such an agreement can also govern with whom the pet lives, any contact arrangements and who pays for its care.
When parties have conflicting views over their pets, we urge couples to attempt to reach agreement between themselves. Failing that, negotiations can take place through a variety of mediums such as solicitor correspondence and mediation. The results of these negotiations can be translated into a Pet Nup, or form part of a separation agreement, which will dictate future arrangements. In the event of divorce or separation, a Pet Nup can be evidenced in court and also annexed to a separation agreement or financial consent order.