The breakdown of any relationship is an upsetting time for all concerned, especially when family pets are involved. Pets are often seen as an important and integral part of the family.
There have been many cases in the spotlight which evidence just how attached to our pets we become, for example, the alleged dispute between Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong over their beloved dog, Hurley.
Petnups have become a key consideration as a result of COVID 19.
It is estimated that around 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. The country now has 17 million pet-owning homes amounting to 34 million pets in the UK (source Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association).
It is becoming increasingly desirable for couples to have certainty as to what should happen to their beloved pet following the breakdown of a relationship, and how to make an already upsetting time a little easier.
- How are pets viewed in the eyes of the law?
A pet is classed as a chattel in the same way as an item of personal property, for example, an item of furniture.
- What is a petnup?
A petnup is a document, similar to a prenuptial agreement or separation agreement, which deals with your pet and who should take ownership of the animal in the event of a dispute following relationship breakdown.
- What are the advantages of a petnup?
Having a petnup in place is a pre-emptive step. It enables parties to agree, in the event of an unfortunate relationship breakdown, as to what should happen to the pet and other important decisions.
By having an agreement in place, it avoids the heartache and upset of having to address the matter at the end of the relationship, and it potentially avoids the parties having to spend significant amounts of money in legal fees to determine the issue.
What the petnup should include will often be determined on a case-by-case basis. However, it would be useful for the petnup to address the following matters: –
- Who the pet is to live with;
- Who is responsible for the insurance;
- Who is responsible for the vet bills; and
- What should happen in the event the pet becomes ill.
The petnup could also include provision for the other party to continue spending time with the pet. If the parties are amicable, it may be that provision could be made for there to be ‘shared care’ of the pet, and for the one party to care for the pet whilst the other is on holiday.
A petnup can be tailored to meet the wishes of the parties involved.
- Are petnups legally binding?
Like prenuptial agreements and separation agreements, petnups are not legally binding. However, the Court is likely to uphold the terms of the petnup if:
- the petnup has been drafted correctly;
- it has been freely entered into by both parties;
- there is a mutual intention for the petnup to be binding;
- there has been no undue pressure; and
- the parties have received legal advice.
- I do not have a petnup and there is a dispute over ownership, what are my options?
If in the event of a relationship breakdown and you and your partner are unable to reach an agreement in respect of your pet, you could consider attending at mediation.
Both you and your partner would be able to sit down and try and resolve the issue with the assistance of a trained and impartial mediator, with a view to arriving at an agreement everyone is happy with.
In the event mediation is not successful, you may have little option other than to seek Court intervention to resolve the dispute. However, it would be necessary to weigh up the potential costs involved in respect of any litigation and it may that Court Proceedings are simply not cost-effective.
Of course, for many of us, pets are priceless and therefore, it would be in your interest to have a petnup to avoid having to make such a difficult decision.
Please do not hesitate to contact the Family Team at Marsden Rawsthorn for a bespoke quotation.
Article by Lauren Townson, solicitor in the Family Department