Pet Custody in Divorce: The Creation of the Pet Nup
On Friday 26th September 2014, the Blue Cross Pet Nup was born.
This is the world’s first comprehensive freestanding agreement that entirely devotes itself to the welfare and custody of a pet when the parties split up.
In order to understand the full nature of the Pet Nup, some background information is required.
At the current time under British divorce law, which includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has their own law relating to divorce), animals or pets are treated as chattels. This means the legal status of a pet, whether it is a dog, cat, llama, tarantula or guinea pig, has the same status as a fridge/freezer. At present there is no concept of parties applying to the court for custody rights towards their pet for contact or residence in the same way as there is in relation to children. Whilst many might comment that that is correct, to those who have a pet at the heart of their family life this makes no discernible sense at all. To many the dog or cat is part of the family and, accordingly, to be advised that they have no custody rights other than financial ones in respect of their beloved pet is hard indeed to understand.
Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce? Planning for Your Pet’s Future
For some considerable time, many of us have been pushing for a change in the law relating to pet custody in divorce, but this has fallen on deaf ears. As statistics in the number of marital breakdowns have increased over the last few years, this has seen an increase in the number of pets being involved in matrimonial disputes and, unfortunately, the number of animals abandoned as a consequence of relationship breakdown. Statistics put together by the Blue Cross organisation, which has twelve animal re-homing centres across England and Wales, showed that four pets a week are being brought into their homing centres as a direct consequence of a divorce or failed relationship. This amounted to over 1,000 during a five-year period. Given that other re-homing centres have experienced the same, action was clearly needed.
For some time, Vanessa Lloyd Platt has referred to the increase in numbers of those discussing an element of their cases concerning pets and the need for a Pet Nup. In collaboration with Blue Cross who were able to provide valuable and vital information about animal welfare, the Pet Nup was put together and has been available to be downloaded for free from their site from 26th September. Find the documents here.
Blue Cross Pet Nup Agreements: Providing for Pets in Divorce Settlements
There are basically two documents available, one the Pet Nup, and the other which termed a Deed of Agreement is another such Deed but in a shorter form. These documents allow anyone to consider what will happen to their pet in the event of their relationship/friendship ending. The document has been deliberately drafted by Lloyd Platt & Co. in order to cater for the following:-
(a) Friends who wish to purchase a pet together and need to consider what will happen in the event that they fall out.
(b) University buddies who have a pet in lodgings for the same reason.
(c) Those who chose to cohabit i.e. live together but are not married, as a couple.
(d) Those that cohabit as same sex couples who may or not enter into a civil partnership.
(e) Couples who either enter into a civil partnership or same sex marriage.
(f) Couples who marry.
(g) Relatives who purchase a pet together.
In each of these cases the document is adaptable so that consideration can be given in the event of anything going wrong. Major issues include:-
(a) Where will the pet live
(b) Who owns the pet
(c) Who will pay for the expenses in relation to the pet
(d) Arrangements if the relationship breaks down for rights to visit; and
(e) Expenditure etc. are considered.
The central core of this agreement is that anything that is done must be “pet centric”. This phrase invented by Lloyd Platt & Co. has been lifted from children’s legislation. It means that the welfare of the pet must be central to everything that is carried out.
In putting the document together, we utilised legislation from cohabitees, pre-nups, deeds of agreement, Children Act Applications for contact and residence, Case Law relating to all of these matters, the law relating to same sex marriages and civil partnerships, and general contract law. Having taken the best of each of these features, they were then placed into a comprehensive document to outline what most parties would wish to consider and achieve if the friendship or relationship broke down.
There has been much discussion in the media as to whether or not these documents will be legally binding. There appears to be no reason why if certain criteria are met that they should not be. What we are trying to achieve is parity with the existing law on prenuptial agreements, that the Courts will recognise decisions made between adults when they have had legal advice as to any financial obligations, and they are decisions that are being carefully considered leading to agreements between them.
In the same way as adults can enter into contractual agreements for rentals, purchases and numerous contractual obligations, there is no reason why in relation to the custody of pets they should not do likewise.
The agreement sets out clearly what the current legal position is and the hope of what the document will achieve. There are bound to be some lawyers who will try to find some loopholes particularly in relation to any financial obligation and no doubt there will be some tweaking or amendment to the document in due course as views towards this document grow in number.
Lloyd Platt & Co. sincerely hope in being part of this enormous new event together with Blue Cross that couples, friends and anyone who has a pet and, more importantly, the pets themselves will benefit from the Pet Nup.
To those who have cynically suggested that this is simply creating a whole new raft of law for lawyers, they are totally missing the issue of the heartache and distress that can be caused by the lack of sufficient legal remedy for dealing with these matters. There is one now.
Contact us about pets in a divorce
Lloyd Platt & Co has some of London’s top lawyers and we can provide the best advice for you if you are seeking legal advice on pet custody in a divorce. To make an enquiry please fill in our form, call us on 0208 343 2998 or click to contact us.