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Annie the dog on a walk.
All pet owners understand how attached you get to your furry (or sometimes, not so furry) friends; they’re not just pets, for many of us, they’re members of our family. When you buy a pet with a partner or spouse, you may not ever think you will need to make a decision about who keeps your pet if you break up. However, our local family law experts urge our clients to consider their family pets before any breakup happens. 
One question that we are getting asked more frequently is: can I put something in place to legally declare what happens to my pet if me and my partner (or spouse, civil partner, co-habitee, etc.) split up? Our expert family law team have explained. 

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According to the PDSA, in February 2020 51% of UK adults owned a pet (including a dog, a cat or a rabbit), with 26% owning a cat and 24% a dog; that’s 10.9 million cats and 10.1 million dogs. As many of us will be aware, these figures are estimated to have increased over the lockdown period, with more of now having the time to spend at home with our new family member during their infancy. According to Pet Food Manufacturers Association, now 59% of the population has a pet. 
When you consider these statistics, it becomes all too clear why, as a nation, we are becoming more conscious of what happens to our pets when we break up from our pet co-owners. 
A new phrase that our family law team have heard being used in recent months is a ‘petnup’. A ‘petnup’ is, as you may have guessed, an agreement setting out who should take ownership of the co-owned pets if the relationship breaks down. This agreement is similar to a cohabitation agreement or prenuptial agreement, hence the name. 

How are pets viewed in the law? 

As much as a pet may feel like a member of the family, they are legally viewed as a chattel. A chattel is an item of personal property, such as furniture. 

Why should I get a petnup? 

A petnup can be put in place as a pre-emptive step, just in case the relationship between pet co-owners breaks down. It can stipulate matters such as: 
1. Who the pet will live with 
2. Who actually owns the pet 
3. Who pays for the pet insurance 
4. Who pays for the vet costs 
5. What happens if the pet is ill 
6. Visitation by the owner who does not live with the pet 
A petnup could be tailored, depending on your circumstances and our expert family law team could discuss your case with you and decide what you may need to include. 

Are petnups legally binding? 

As with prenuptial agreements and separation agreements, petnups are not legally binding. However, like with these documents, a petnup is likely to be upheld by the Court if it is drafted correctly, is mutually agreed, the terms are fair and both parties have freely entered into the agreement. 

I did not enter into a petnup and now my partner and I are in disagreement about ownership of our pet: what are my options? 

On this subject, the advice of our family law solicitors near you, is simple- If you truly cannot reach an amicable agreement with your pet co-owner, you may wish to consider mediation to try and reach an agreement with the assistance of a trained and impartial mediator. The idea will be to reach an agreement that all parties are satisfied with. 
If this does not work, the only other option may be to seek the assistance of the Court. This process can be time consuming and costly and therefore you should always seek legal advice before issuing proceedings, to ensure that you are aware of the costs and other implications of taking the dispute to Court. 
It should also be noted that the Court will not give much weight to who has cared for the animal on a day-to-day basis or who the pet has the strongest bond with. The Court will decide on ownership taking into account who actually bought the pet, whether it was bought as a gift, who has funded things such as insurance and vet bills, and who has bought the food. So, it is possible that where one half of the couple has been the breadwinner and one the homemaker, the person who has spent less time with the pet could be determined to be the rightful owner. 

Can MG Legal help? 

Whilst petnups are a relatively new concept for all local family law solicitors, our expert team are here to help. Arrange an initial consultation for a fixed fee of £75 plus VAT by contacting our family law team online, here, or at your local office. MG Legal- family law solicitors near you. 
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