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Who keeps the pet? The rise of the 'petnup'

Apr 7th, 2021

Theo Hoppen, Partner

5.6 million pets could be at the centre of disputes as 3.2 million joined families in the past 12 months alone. Here we suggest new pet owners  draft a ‘petnup’ to avoid future disputes.

As a result of the lockdown boom in animal ownership over the past 12 months, the UK now has 17 million pet-owning homes, 3.2 million of which joined families during the pandemic. However, the pandemic has also caused an enormous strain on many relationships.

Therefore, as many as 5.6 million pets could be at the centre of relationship conflict in the coming years, with the majority of owners having no formal agreement in place as to who officially owns the family pet.

In relation to the emerging problem, it may be prudent that pet owners take the sensible and logical step of entering into a ‘petnup’ to set out the arrangements upon separation and avoid feuds regarding who should take custody of the pet.

Who keeps the pet?

Theo Hoppen, partner in Family Law explains: “Aside from the arrangements for children, deciding who takes the family pet can be one of the most difficult battles to have when dividing up assets on separation.

“Whilst a pet can quickly become part of the family, the law is clear and treats pets as chattels, an item of personal property, such as a piece of furniture or a car.

“If parties cannot agree arrangements for Fido, a Court will only be interested in who paid for the pet and who was responsible for the pet financially, unless it can be clearly shown the pet was purchased as a gift for the other party or there was an agreement that the ownership would be shared with the party who did not purchase it.

“A Judge will not be interested who takes the dog on better walks or gives him the better belly rubs and they are unlikely to get involved in arranging visiting hours, financial support or any other decisions pet owners feel need to be made.

“If discussions aren’t getting you anywhere, a dispute over who keeps the family pet may be resolved by mediation, enabling you both to sit down with an impartial mediator who can help guide you to a resolution.”

What can be done to avoid proceedings?

“As a preventative measure, parties may consider entering into a ‘petnup’. Similarly, to a pre-nuptial agreement, this can set out the arrangements upon separation and confirm who the pet will live with, who will pay for vet fees and who will ultimately care for the pet. When drafted correctly, a ‘petnup’ can form a contract between you and your partner which will likely be upheld by the Court.”

Langleys’ specialist Family law team is available to advise on any questions pet owners may have in relation to ‘petnups’. To find out more contact us or call 0330 0947777.

Comments from our family law team on this issue have been covered by various media outlets. It will be interesting to see how this story develops as we emerge from this phase of lockdown. (Spring 2021).

Partner Emma Lawler was interviewed by BBC Radio London. For a radio clip listen here.

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