Changes in attitudes towards marriage a may be behind a rising trend in prenuptial agreements – and, in some cases, ‘petnups’, relating to the custody and care of shared pets.
A prenuptial agreement usually details any assets, liabilities, and expectations a couple brings to a relationship. In the case of separation, this legal document can then be used as an aid to resolve disputes over property, financial settlements, children’s arrangements – or even pets.
Deciding who gets to keep the family pet after divorce can be a particularly difficult issue. The first legally binding ‘petnup’ agreement was reportedly launched in 2014, with a quarter of surveyed pet-owning couples saying they would consider making such arrangements. According to re-homing charity Blue Cross, a petnup involves a Deed of Agreement that sets out who will retain ownership of a family pet in the case of divorce. An average of four pets a week are given up to re-homing centres as the result of separation, and the charity hopes that more couples will consider including pets in their prenuptial agreements to avoid future heartache for both owners and their beloved animals.
Under current family law, pets fall into the category of ‘chattels’ (possessions), which means the courts are not able to deal with negotiations over custody, maintenance, or visitation rights. The court can only deal with ownership of your pet if there is an application under the Married Woman’s Property Act 1882 which can be expensive, and the outcome uncertain. This is something couples really need to agree on themselves, with the help of a mediator, or by following a predetermined arrangement set out in a pre-nuptial agreement.
There has always been something of a stigma around prenuptial agreements – whether that’s because of the belief that they are reserved for the rich and famous, or the assumption that any relationship that starts with preparation for hypothetical separation is doomed to fail – but in essence a prenup (or petnup) is nothing more than an insurance policy. You wouldn’t think twice to insure your car or house against unforeseen dangers, or draw up a life insurance policy to protect your family should the worst happen, but somehow making sure that you and your partner are both financially secure if you one day decide to part ways is deemed distasteful.
Whether you’re doing it for the kids, financial peace of mind, or your dog, a prenuptial is the best way to smooth the process of separation, should you one day find yourselves in that situation. While it might not set out exactly what will happen, it is a good start to fostering an amicable, cooperative process of dispute resolution, and will help you to see things in a more practical way. In all cases, trying to settle your differences via out-of-court methods like mediation are always preferable, as entering into legal action can be costly, lengthy, and stressful.
For more information on prenuptial agreements, divorce, separation, and how to decide who gets to keep the family pet, visit www.franceslindsay.co.uk or book a free 45-minute consultation with one of our family lawyers. Our offices are based in Maidenhead and our services cover the whole of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire including Windsor, Cookham, Marlow, Beaconsfield, Burnham, Farnham Common, and the Thames Valley.