The PetNup: The New Prenup Explained

Custody battles aren’t just about children anymore. In recent years, disputes over the custody of pets have become a highly contested subject in divorce proceedings. Our beloved fur babies are like family, so it makes sense that people are willing to go to court for their right to see their furry friends. The frequency of pet custody disputes during divorce has led to the rise of  so-called “pet-nups.” This prenuptial agreement specifically details exactly what will happen to a shared family pet in the event of divorce. Here is everything you need to know about pet-nups.

While we may see our pets as furrier children, the law simply sees them as personal property. As such, pets are subject to the same rules governing the division of property in a divorce. More often than not, a judge will give full ownership to one person in the couple based on who has put the most money into the care of the pet. In more recent years, judges have been willing to look at pet ownership more like child custody and ruled to give “custody” to the person who can provide the best environment for the animal. If you own a pet with your spouse, it is a good idea to work out an agreement for custody or visitation of the pet.

A pet-nup is the best way to ensure that you get to maintain a relationship with your pet even if things don’t work out with your spouse. Divorce attorneys recommend a number of things to include in your pet-nup to avoid stress and heartache over the loss of a pet during the divorce process. Most pet-nups include the right of ownership, any visitation agreements, and expectations for ongoing pet care. A court will typically recognize the right of ownership laid out in a pet-nup, but it will not enforce lifestyle choices like who gets the pet for holidays or specific aspects of pet care. Still, deciding these things ahead of time can alleviate stress between former spouses.

In a pet-nup, you can detail exactly how ownership will go after a divorce. This includes any shared custody agreement (two weekends a month with one partner), visitation agreements, and parameters for how contact between caregivers should be carried out. The ownership agreement can break down financial responsibilities for everyday care, vet bills, and grooming expenses. Many pet-nups can also include holiday visitation schedules and who can watch the pet and where in the event the primary caregiver is unable to care for the pet due to illness or travel.

The pet-nup can also detail the expectations for pet care for the owner(s) of the pet in the event of a divorce. Many pet-nups include a clause binding both parties to abide by the Animal Welfare Act of 2006, requiring specific standards of care to be met in regards to the animal in question. A pet-nup can lay out expectations for grooming, regular vet care, food quality, and even microchipping registration. The pet-nup can include a clause about breeding—if it is allowed or not—and the ownership of any offspring of the pet in question.

Pets are increasingly seen as members of the family and big aspects of our lives. Courts are beginning to view pets less like personal property and more like children when it comes to questions of care and custody. Judges are much more likely to honor pet-nups and assign ownership based on who can provide the best environment and care for the pet than on traditional lines of ownership. If you share a pet with your significant other, a pet-nup can give you the peace of mind you need should things turn south in your relationship.

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