A recent article in the Evening Standard highlighted the rising popularity of “petnups”. Most people will be familiar with the concept of pre-nups which, although not formally legally binding, have been given more legal weight in England and Wales since the landmark ruling of a case in 2010 called Radmacher v Granatino, writes Victoria Maxwell, a solicitor in our Family law team.
Family Law practitioners now regularly assist either engaged couples with drawing up a prenuptial agreement or already married couples in preparing a postnuptial agreement.
For unmarried couples there is also the option of entering into a cohabitation agreement to set out the terms of not only their future arrangements during their relationship but also how their finances should be divided if they were to separate.
Pre and postnuptial agreements are inevitably designed to protect assets as well as giving the parties certainty should their marriage end in divorce. Petnups are essentially a contractual agreement outlining the arrangements for a pet in the event of the parties’ separation. Theoretically such agreements are therefore open to all couples, married or unmarried. A petnup tends to include who the pet will live with, how much contact it should have with the other party and who should be responsible for the animal’s financial upkeep.
According to the Law Society, one in four divorces now involves a dispute over an animal. Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s high profile divorce battle centred a lot around who should keep their two Yorkshire terriers – Heard won. To many, a bitter expensive court battle over an animal may seem like a “First World Problem”. The recent article in the Evening Standard drew on the experience of a pet grief counsellor who highlighted the emotional trauma for those couples involved, most of whom report the custody of the pet as the worst part of a divorce over any dispute about assets or maintenance. Whilst most assets are replaceable, pets are not.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a huge rise in pet ownership. The vast increase in demand has made the price of dogs and pet insurance soar across the country. Although to most pet owners their pets are considered “part of the family”, legally they are in fact considered “chattels” i.e. similar to the contents of the family home and unlike children there are no visiting rights and generally the person who paid for the pet is likely to be considered the animal’s legal owner.
Whilst the court does not have the power to order or enforce lifestyle choices in relation to “chattels”, couples who enter into petnup are creating certainty from the outset, by creating a contract recording their expressed intentions. Furthermore, by deciding these details from the outset couples could reduce the conflict of an already difficult and emotional breakup.
The above is accurate as at 30 June 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.