Many individuals getting married today are likely to choose raising a fur baby over a human baby. Millennials, in particular, are less likely to have children than their parents were, opting instead to add a puppy or kitten to their home. There are various reasons for this trend, not the least of which is the high cost of housing coupled with cumbersome student loan debt. Pets are less expensive than babies and can allow for more flexible lifestyles. To some, pets are the new kids!
Owners often refer to their pets as their “fur children” because, well, let’s be real – they are. Pets are a part of the family and we develop a deep sense of love and attachment for them. They probably feel the same way about us (except for cats). Because we are so strongly bonded with our pets, we need to plan for their lives with us during our marriage, but also after. Some things to consider are:
- General pet costs
- Emergency medical care
- Post-marriage pet custody
What happens to your pets, though, if you and your spouse decide to divorce? There are some pretty famous examples of high-profile pets igniting messy custody battles. For example, PETA stepped in when Brittany Spears and Kevin Federline divorced, and Drew Barrymore had to fight for the right to keep her beloved Labrador when she and Tom Green divorced after only 6 months of marriage. A prenup could have circumvented much of the headache caused by these doggie dramas.
Although a large number of parents choose to have both children and pets, the courts treat the dependents differently in a divorce proceeding. Kids are obviously treated as humans while pets are generally treated as property. This may seem unfair, and PETA would probably agree with you, but in some ways 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 won’t be obligated to pay child support, you can include these terms when talking about a pet. Your prenup can also dictate how you and your partner will allocate funds to pay for the care of your pet both during and after your marriage. Petnup anyone?
Costs of Pet Maintenance and Emergency Care
Before you get married, you should talk to your soon-to-be spouse about a prenuptial agreement. It may seem odd to discuss animal care in your prenup. You could have bigger fish to fry (pun intended). For example, your prenup will detail all of you and your partner’s financial assets and liabilities. You might want to think about retirement funds and insurance policies and to be sure, the prenup can become pretty complex if you have a complex financial situation.
So why consider the pup (or kitty) in your prenup? Some estimates provide that a dog may cost owners up to $40,000 during its lifespan. A cat could cost around $30,000. These are not insignificant numbers, but the same report indicates that most pet owners believe they will pay less than $2,000 for the pet during its life.
Between food, vaccinations, and boarding fees, even the general maintenance of pet ownership can add up not only during your marriage, but after. A pet that outlives your vows will continue to need general care and if you plan for this in your prenup, you will undoubtedly save a lot of time, money, and stress.
There are also pet expenses that are more difficult to plan for. Because we love them so much, we’re often ready to spend an arm and a leg on treating our pets when there is an emergency. If you and your partner arranged for handling these costs in your prenup by allocating which accounts you will draw from for pet emergencies, then you’ll be able to better focus your energies on loving your fur baby back to good health.
It’s worth noting that nowadays, pet insurance is popular. Consider including provisions in your prenup that spell out who is responsible for paying pet insurance premiums after a divorce. There are other monthly installment payments that may arise as well. Barkbox is popular these days, and if you commit to a lengthy contract with this company or any other, don’t hesitate to include it in your prenup.
Pet Custody and Co-Pet Parenting
While your prenuptial agreement can be a tool to help you and your partner navigate pet expense budgets during the course of your marriage, you should also consider using a prenup to prepare for your pet’s life after marriage. The length of the average marriage before divorce is about 8 years; however, the average lifespan of some common pets is as follows:
- Medium sized dog – 11 years
- Indoor cat – 12 to 18 years
- Parrot – 65 years
- Turtle – 40 to 50 years
These life expectancy ranges demonstrate the fact that we need to be prepared for what happens to pets after a relationship comes to an end. You could prepare your prenup in a manner that describes who the custodial pet parent will be. This may feel cold, but imagine disagreeing over this at the end of a marriage, while also going through all of the other tough issues that divorce can create. It is often best to take emotional surprises off the table.
Pre-arranging who will have primary custody of your pets after separation can lead to other helpful discussions as well. For example, you can both make a determination on what veterinarian will be used, what the maximum amount of money you can spend on emergency care will be, or end of life terms for the pet.
In addition to agreeing who will have custody of the pet or how custody will be split and who will pay for what, you can also agree on a pet custody schedule. For many of us, it can be hard to imagine handing over a pet we love, and never having the pet in our lives again. Divorce can be messy but it can also be more amicable than the versions we see in the movies.
HelloPrenup allows you to add a provision for Fido right into your prenup, so that you can detail a co-pet parenting agreement. Your pet provision can include either a general plan that describes the percentage of time you each want to spend with your pet, or who pays for what with respect to the pet. Plan for what works best for you and your future spouse based off of your schedules and your finances.
Trending Law Regarding Pets and Divorce
Pets have traditionally been seen as personal property, a view that many would now argue is out of date. As dogs have transitioned into the role of emotional support animal, it makes sense that in some states, courts are adopting an approach that tries to glean what may be best for the dog. In New York, for example, courts have been known to use a “best for all” approach.
While pets are certainly still not on the same level as children when it comes to how the courts will consider their interests, it does show that courts understand not only the vital role that pets play in our lives, but also that pet well-being matters as well.
If you don’t have a prenup, and the court is left to make a decision about which of you will get the pet, all may not be lost. While there are accounts of a person in a divorce using a pet as leverage to negotiate divorce terms in their favor, we can hope the court will step in. That said, in an already emotional state, you may be vulnerable to making decisions that won’t be the best for you or your pet.
Although we can hope that in some states, the court will consider doing what is best for the pet and the people, a prenup will serve as a guidepost during difficult times. You’ll be able to focus on other priorities and you won’t have to pay your attorney to advocate on behalf of your fur child.
Get a Dog Gon’ Prenup!
While the example of a contentious divorce is a worst-case scenario, it is a great example of why you should consider including your pets in a prenuptial agreement. Even if the end of your marriage is amicable, there is a lot to consider during such a major lifestyle disruption. A prenup that dictates how you will divide not only your financial assets and obligations, but also matters pertaining to your pets, will be a money saver, a time saver and emotional benefit in the end.
Prenups can feel overwhelming and be a difficult topic to bring up with the love of your life before you’ve even tied the knot. Never hesitate to seek legal advice if you have any questions about including Fido in your prenup. Even though it can be a hard discussion to start, once you begin communicating about it, you’re likely to find you feel even more secure in the foundation of your life together.
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected].