Are you a dog or cat person? (Dogs are better)

Aug 31, 2021 | California Prenuptial Agreements, Prenuptial Agreements, Relationships

Just kidding! Maybe not. One thing is for sure, you are either a dog person, or a cat person.

Many millennial couples getting married today are choosing to raise a fur child together, before or during marriage. Some of them may even choose that fur child over a human child. Millennials, as a group, are less likely to have (human) children than generations before like their parents, for many reasons. Some of those reasons, not the least of which consist of the high cost of housing coupled with cumbersome student loan debt, coupled with the great expense of having a child and the stunted wage growth. Fur children on the other hand, are less expensive than babies and can allow for more flexible lifestyles. Dare we say…pets are the new kids? (For all those getting really annoyed right now, we are half kidding, we promise).

Fur children are a part of the family and we develop a deep sense of love and attachment for them- they feel the same way about us (except for cats). We become so strongly bonded with our pets, that we need to plan for their health and well-being with us during our marriage, both financially and emotionally. Some things to consider are:

  • Costs associated with pet ownership
  • Medical care
  • Pet custody if you are ever to split in the future

This last one can feel like a scary one. What happens to your fur children, if you and your spouse decide to divorce? Is custody treated like that of a child? There are some pretty high profile celebrity examples of famous pets igniting messy custody fights. For example, PETA stepped in when BritBrit and K-Fed divorced. Drew Barrymore had to fight to keep her beloved Lab when she and Tom Green divorced after an extremely short, 6 month marriage (did they even have a prenup??).

Why does any of this matter to you? A prenup could have helped avoid much of the headache caused by these doggie dramas.

Although many parents choose to have both (human) children AND pets, most courts treat these dependents very differently in a divorce proceeding. Kids are obviously treated as humans while pets are generally treated as property, in most states. This may seem unfair, and maybe even inhumane, and PETA would probably agree with you, but we like to look at the positive side here- this legality allows for more flexibility in your prenup.

While you can’t include prenup provisions that name who will get custody of your human child, or who will or won’t be obligated to pay child support, or how much, you can include these terms in your prenup when talking about a pet. Your prenup can also specify how you and your betrothed will allocate financial resources to pay for the care of your fur children both during and in the event your marriages ends. Petnup anyone?

The cost of pet care = not cheap

We have said it before, but… before you get married, you should talk to your future spouse about a prenup. It may feel odd to discuss the specifics of care for your pets in your prenup, but really this is becoming more and more common. Maybe you feel like you have bigger fish to fry (sorry to all the fish parents, pun intended). A typical prenup will detail all financial assets and liabilities, and you may want to think about the super exciting topics like what happens to retirement funds, insurance policies, health insurance and (are you asleep yet?) you would be right, these topics can become pretty intense if you have a complex financial position.

So why include the pupper (or kitty) in your prenup?

Some sources estimate that owning a cat or dog costs over $30,000 to $40,000 during their lifespan. Yes, there is a significant cost to owning a pet, but the real kicker here the fact that most pet owners believe they will pay less than $2,000 over the course of their pet’s life.

Between (organic) food, yearly check ups, vaccinations, and potential boarding fees, even the maintenance of owning a pet can add up. In addition, a pet that outlives your vows will continue to require care. If you plan for this worst case scenario in your prenup, you will undoubtedly save a lot of time, money, and stress. Oh, and when you plan for the worst case scenario, they generally don’t happen. That’s just a personal opinion.

Emergency costs are also pet expenses that are difficult to plan for, and are often more expensive than anticipated. Because we love our pets so much, we are usually fine with spending an arm and a leg on whatever the vet deems necessary when there is an emergency. How does this affect your prenup? Well, if you and your future spouse arranged for how these costs would be handled in a prenup, then you would be able to focus your energy on loving your fur baby back to good health. Just as a side note, pet insurance is popular these days. If you can, get it!

Pets and Divorce

In the eyes of the law, pets have traditionally been seen as property, a view that many pet parents would now argue is antiquated. We agree.

As dogs have transitioned into the role of emotional support and best friend, it makes sense that in some states, courts have begun adopting an approach that tries to glean what may be best for the dog. In New York, courts have been known to use what they call a “best for all” approach.

While pets are still not treated as children when it comes to custody and how the courts will consider their interests, courts do now better understand the vital role that pets play in our lives.

If you don’t have a prenup, and the court is left to make a decision about which of you will get the pet, many courts will look at the pet as though they were a piece of property. Some states will consider when the pet was adopted, who has paid the majority of the expenses, and how that plays into the length of the marriage. But, what the court decides may not be what you want. While there are many accounts of a divorcing spouse in a divorce action using a pet as leverage to negotiate terms in their favor, a pet clause in your prenup could help avoid this fight down the road. A prenup will serve as a guidepost during difficult times.

Moral of the story: Get a prenup!

While the example of a combative divorce is a worst-case scenario that no pet parent wants to face, it is a good example of why and your future spouse should consider including a clause about your pets in a prenup. Even if the end of your marriage is the most amicable of all divorces ever, there are a lot of factors that you will need to consider during such a major lifestyle interruption. A prenup that specifies how you will divide your financials AND matters pertaining to your fur children will be a time and money saver and emotional benefit to all involved.

Prenups can feel overwhelming and be a difficult topic to bring up with the future love of your life before you tie the knot. If you have legal questions or concerns, never hesitate to seek legal advice about including Fido in your prenuptial agreement (or anything else legal, for that matter). Even though the prenup talk can be a hard discussion to begin, once you start communicating, you and your future spouse are likely to feel even more secure in the foundation of your life together.

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