A quarter of pet owners who are in a relationship are taking steps to make sure they get to keep their pet if they separate or divorce, writes James Maguire, director at Maguire Family Law.
As a specialist family law firm, we’ve seen a growing number of cases over the years of couples arguing over their pets when they divorce or separate. We wanted to carry out some research to find out what steps people are taking to protect themselves and their pets should anything happen between them and their partner in the future.
We surveyed 1254 people across the UK who are currently in a relationship and have a pet. Only a third of the people we spoke to said they love their partner more than their pet. A third said they love their human companion the same as their animal friend.
15 per cent admit to actually being more smitten with their pet than their partner
A quarter of pet owners who are in a relationship are taking steps to make sure they get to keep their pet if they separate or divorce One in ten has paid for all their pet’s equipment, all food picked from Blue Buffalo, toys and vet bills and kept the receipts as evidence of their care of the pet, while 12 per cent have registered the pet in their name only.
Our research found one in 20 currently has a pet-nup, and an additional third of respondents said they’d consider getting one. A pet-nup is a formal agreement between a couple setting out what will happen to any pets they have together if they separate in the future, including who gets to keep and look after the pet.
We spoke to one lady who is currently going through a breakup and arguing over the ownership of their dog. Hannah*, aged 33 from London, said: “My ex and I bought our puppy last October. I hesitated over getting one at the time as we weren’t in a good place and was worried we’d eventually break up, however we did agree that if the worst happened I would get to keep Basil. We shared some of the costs when we bought him, including the cost of the actual dog but I was the main carer as I am a freelancer who can often work at home.
Unfortunately, six weeks ago we did break up and we’ve been arguing about who gets to keep the dog ever since, my now ex has since gone back on the previous arrangement and would now like shared care arrnangements, but I’m worried because he works long hours and wouldn’t be around to look after him properly – it’s important for me that our dog is happy and safe and I’m not sure a 50/50 split would give him this. He’s been using our pet to manipulate me and try to get his own way – and all I want is to know that I get to keep him without any more threats. It’s so upsetting to have to go through this, as well as know that I don’t technically have any more rights over my ex in terms of who gets to keep him.”
We are seeing a growing number of divorce and separation cases where people are arguing over care arrangements of their dogs, cats, horses and other pets. Although our survey showed a third of pet owners in relationships think animals should be treated the same as children when it comes to breakups, unfortunately the law doesn’t agree.
Under current legislation in England and Wales, pets are treated as an item of personal property – the same as a piece of furniture, for example.
Obviously, the emotional attachment to pets can be huge, which is why we see so much upset over who gets to keep them when a couple breaks up. People may find if they draw up a pet-nup, there may be issues around its enforceability if there’s a dispute, but we find if a couple agrees matters up front they usually stick to this.”
Our research – which questioned 1254 adults across the UK who are in a relationship and have at least one pet – found a quarter would take legal action if they broke up with their partner because both would want to keep the pet. An additional quarter think their ex should have to pay maintenance towards their pet if they broke up.
But it’s not all heartache. Although a fifth said they wouldn’t let their ex visit the pet after a breakup, 65 per cent said they’d allow visits and a quarter would send their ex regular updates via text, WhatsApp, email or social media.
There are ways you can make sure breakups and divorces are as amicable as possible. While getting a pre-nup isn’t always the most romantic way to start a marriage, it can save a lot of stress in the unfortunate event of a divorce – and if you have a beloved pet, consider getting a specific pet-nup drawn up at the same time. This can cover who will be the primary carer of the pet, any shared responsibilities and who will be responsible for paying costs such as vet bills. If you find yourself separating or divorcing, whether or not you’ve got a pet-nup in place we’d always advise to try and resolve any issues through mediation rather than resorting to legal action, which can be expensive, time-consuming and, not to mention emotionally draining.
We’ve created a template pet-nup so you can see what a basic agreement looks like in principle; and to discuss with your partner about your pet. Take a look at our template pet-nup here but please do not rely on it as each case is always different and you must seek legal advice before entering into or relying on this or any agreement:
*Hannah is not her real name. The case study wished to remain anonymous as the breakup is still ongoing.
James Maguire, director at Maguire Family Law.