It’s a fur baby boom! Did you know that 87 million households now have pets and 95% of them consider their pets to be family? Millennials have now become the largest pet-owning cohort and show no signs of slowing things down. With all of these pets becoming important parts of our families, have you ever stopped to think about what happens to the pets when a couple splits? The surprising answer is a court can actually decide who gets to keep Fido. If that sounds scary, don’t worry, there’s a simple solution – a prenup!
You’ve heard of heated custody disputes over children, but did you know pet custody battles also occur? Not surprisingly, several high-profile celebs have found themselves entangled in a pet custody dispute including Drew Barrymore and Britney Spears.
With a prenup, or cohabitation agreement if you are not married, you and your partner can come to an agreement as to what happens to your pet if you split. This allows cooler heads to prevail and also provides peace of mind for the life of the relationship. A judge will never care for your pet the way you do, so who better to make custody decisions. Take control over your pet’s future and include them in your prenup to ensure that their future with you is safe.
What happens to your pet when you divorce?
If you divorce, and you and your partner do not agree about the ownership of your pet, a judge can step in and make the decision. Generally, pets are considered property. This allows the court designate who gets to retain ownership of the pet, just as a court would make decisions about ownership of your home, cars, and retirement accounts.
While we may think of our pets as our children, that is not how the court views them. When we divorce with children, there are separate custody determinations made. When the court makes custody decisions, it must consider “the best interest of the child”. However, the court is not required to consider the pet’s best interests. This can lead to unfair and unsatisfying results. But, by including your pet in your prenup, you can make the decision for yourself.
How courts make pet ownership decisions
There are a lot of factors at play when the court makes pet ownership decisions. First, if one of the spouses owned the pet prior to the marriage/relationship, the court will weigh that factor heavily in favor of giving the pet to that spouse. That can be the case even if the other spouse provided the majority of the care for the pet. Now, if you and your partner got the pet together, the decision gets a little trickier. In that instance, the court may consider who provided the majority of the pet’s care or who shouldered the financial burden of the pet – including vet bills.
While courts don’t have to consider “the best interest” of the pet – as they would with a child in a custody dispute – courts may still consider the best environment for the pet. If the pet is costly, the court may consider which partner can handle the added expense. When one parent is awarded custody of the children, it is also common that they will request custody of the pet as well. In fact, when Britney’s ex Kevin Federline was granted custody of their children, PETA allegedly wrote Federline a letter urging him to seek custody of their pups too.
If these potential outcomes sound unfair to you, you should definitely consider including pet provisions in your prenup!
What if you aren’t married?
Prenups are a great option for married pet parents. However, prenups are not an option for couples who are not married as prenups are only effective upon marriage. So, if you and your partner don’t want to get married or marriage isn’t in the near future, a cohabitation agreement or “petnup” can be a great alternative to prenups.
A cohabitation agreement, as the name suggests, is an agreement entered into by a cohabitating couple who is financially involved. This type of agreement lets you and your partner decide what happens if your relationship ends. For example, if you own a home together, who stays and who goes if you separate? Likewise, your cohabitation agreement can decide who gets your pet. And, the decision doesn’t have to be black and white. You can create all kinds of arrangements including shared custody or visitation agreements. Check your state laws to ensure that cohabitation agreements are enforceable in your state.
If you and your partner are not financially involved, then a pet prenup (AKA petnup) is a better option. The sole purpose of a petnup is to decide what happens to your pet if you split. This can include custody arrangements, visitation schedules, decisions as to who is financially responsible for the pet, and who can make medical decisions. This streamlines and simplifies the process of breaking up and provides a smoother transition for the furbaby too.
If want to ensure that you maintain at least partial custody of your pet, a petnup (or pet provision in your prenup) is crucial! It’s important to make these decisions before any fighting starts as you and your partner are more likely to reach an amicable decision before the breakup. Additionally, it allows you and your partner to have control over the fate of your pooch, rather than leaving the crucial decision in the hands of the court. When it comes to what’s best for your pet, who knows better than you!
In addition to custody determinations, your petnup can cover other important decisions related to your pet. Just like children, pets can be expensive! In fact, sometimes more expensive when it comes to unexpected vet visits and surgeries – especially because pet medical insurance is not quite as common. So, if you split, who gets stuck with that $2,000 vet bill? Well, your petnup can decide. Additionally, your petnup can specify who is permitted to make medical decisions for the pet and even what vet is authorized to care for them.
Another tricky consideration is the relocation of one or both partners. For example, let’s assume you and your partner decided to share custody of a pet after a break-up. Everything goes smoothly until one of you decides to move to another state. What happens to your pet then? Your petnup can decide whether the pet stays full time with one of you or if the non-relocating partner gets certain visitation rights. The arrangement is up to you, but it’s important to have a plan in place that you are both comfortable with before any of these potential scenarios arise.
With HelloPrenup, you and your partner can easily create a prenup that you (and your pets!) are comfortable with. Get started on yours today!
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].