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Never work with animals? – Pet nups are on the rise as exes seek clarity over ownership upon separation

The below article was published in the Solicitors Journal online on 18th November 2016. You can view the full article here.

For aspiring lawyers, the long and weary days at law school are tempered by the dream of working on high-profile cases, defending the rule of law, and yes, you guessed it, resolving pet custody disputes.

For Michael E Adler, a Philadelphia-based attorney specialising in business and real estate litigation, the ‘dream’ has become a reality, or has it? ‘Just settled a divorce over visitation of a parrot. Neither may teach it negative phrases about the other. I went to law school for this,’ he recently tweeted.

Some 47,000 retweets and 89,000 likes later, Adler’s humorous take on life in the law appeared to shed light on the more unusual custody battles taking place in the US. However, it seems he may have nicked his lines from fellow legal tweeter @Parkerlawyer. Leaving aside any allegation of tweet plagiarism, ownership of the family pet could be a growing specialty for UK lawyers, as Solicitors Journal found out.

With pets only considered chattel in the UK, legal battles of an animal are becoming more common, as Vanessa Lloyd Platt, a divorce lawyer at Lloyd Platt & Co, explained: ‘Pets quite often come into divorce cases and the disputes over them have definitely been growing but they’ve always come up in one way or another.’

According to animal charity Blue Cross, when Brits split the wife or girlfriend usually keeps the pet (56 per cent), whereas just under a third of men (29 per cent) retain full ownership. For those who cannot decide who should keep the pet, 15 per cent decided to give them to a friend, 12 per cent to family members, and 6 per cent to pet charities.

Lloyd Platt created the world’s first ‘pet nup’ in 2014 – a deed of agreement allowing couples to decide what should happen to their pets upon separation. ‘I looked at children’s legislation, contract law, divorce and separation laws, and the Animal Welfare Act, with a view that everything had to be pet-centric,’ she told Solicitors Journal.

The London-based solicitor said the agreements ‘had taken off like crazy’ with the American Bar Association approaching her to use it as precedent across the US and it seems that, for our Atlantic cousins, pet nups could not have come about at a better time, especially when it came to disputes over man’s best friend. ‘Judges would say, “Send in the dog and we’ll see who it goes to”, but the owners were cheating,’ explained Lloyd Platt. ‘They were rubbing their hands with dog meat.’

As the old show business adage goes: ‘Never work with animals or children.’ At law school, Lloyd Platt certainly never imagined she would be dealing with the care arrangements of animals. When asked whether pet nups were barking mad or here to stay, she laughed: ‘Watch this space.’

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