‘Pet-Nups’ – written agreements regarding ownership of pets
May 28, 2021
We are a nation of pet lovers and during the Covid-19 pandemic demand for pets (in particular puppies) has increased significantly. The price of puppies has dramatically increased with popular breeds commanding prices of several thousand pounds. In addition to the financial investment in our pets we of course become emotionally attached to them.
When a relationship breaks down sadly confrontations and disputes can arise in relation to whose pet is whose to keep and if unresolved these disputes can end up in the Small Claims Court or within the Family Court as part of a divorce/financial settlement.
Entering into a written agreement recording ownership of your pet(s) should help to avoid the heartache of a dispute should you separate from your partner in the future. We have created a short ‘Pet-Nup’ to assist with that though every pet owner’s circumstances will be different and the document will need to be tailored to ensure that it is fit for your purposes.
In the absence of an explicit written agreement of ownership of your pet(s) should a dispute arise which cannot be resolved through discussion and/or mediation the Court will eventually need to determine ownership and will it be reliant on other forms of evidence such as who paid for the pet(s), consideration of other documents such as kennel club registration, who is registered on the microchip database (if applicable), who pays for and maintains the insurance, who usually takes care of the pet(s) etc.
The careful recording of the ownership of your pet(s) and the updating of the written agreement as you welcome new pets into your family is the best way to evidence ownership.
For separated partners who are married or in a civil partnership, disputes regarding pet ownership are capable of being determined by the Family Court conversely, for separated partners who were not married or in a civil partnership there is a mechanism whereby the Small Claims Court can make declarations of ownership and they can order the return of the pet(s) and/or an order for damages for wrongful retention of a pet(s).
The aim of a Pet-Nup Agreement is to avoid the need to go to court about the ownership of your pet and it is an agreement that can fit into the wider regulation of your financial and personal circumstances with your partner whether that be a broader Cohabitation Agreement whilst you live together or a Prenuptial Agreement if you are intending to marry/enter into a civil partnership.
Pets are treated as “chattels” in the eyes of the law which means they have the same legal status as any other personal possession such as a car or piece of art.
A Pet-Nup Agreement can go further than the attached precedent document in that it could also set out how the time spent with the dog should be shared in the event that you separate from your partner. Pet owners are often able to agree this however, having the benefit a written agreement can create certainty and reduce the likelihood of a dispute arising in the future.
Please note that unlike the rules regarding ownership of the pet(s) when it comes to sharing the time spent with a pet(s) there is currently no law dealing with this issue and if a dispute arise about the time with a pet, there will be no means to enforce the agreed terms.
The Court does however have the ability to make Orders regarding declaration of ownership, orders for the return of the pet(s), an order for damages for the wrongful retention of a pet, damages to the loss of the value of a pet and an order for the pet to be sold and the proceeds divided in accordance with any agreement made where there is shared ownership of the pet(s).