With pet custody disputes on the rise in divorce cases, many couples are turning to pet prenuptial agreements.
With disputes over pets on the rise, a 'prenup' can help avoid surprises
For many people, a pet is not just a piece of property, but a member of the family. When it comes time to divorce, however, many people are surprised to learn that courts tend to be less than sympathetic to the emotional attachments people have with their family pets. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a recent poll among matrimonial lawyers has found an increase in the number of disputes involving custody of pets. Experts advise that a prenuptial agreement can help avoid such disputes and can help divorcing couples settle specific issues related to family pets before they become matters for a judge to resolve.
Pet custody disputes
The poll, conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, found that 27 percent of divorce attorneys had witnessed an increase in pet custody disputes during divorce cases in the past five years. With pet ownership on the rise, it should come as no surprise that disputes over pet custody are also increasing, especially among couples who don't have children.
The problem that many people run into during divorce is that the law largely treats animals as property rather than as family members. As difficult as it is for many people to accept, most courts see the family dog as akin to any other piece of property that has been acquired before or during a marriage. While some specific judges may be sympathetic to the emotional ties between people and animals, most judges, unlike in child custody cases, are unlikely to consider a pet's "best interests." Rather, they will largely look at which spouse has a greater claim of ownership over the pet. Additionally, the courts can't afford to spend the resources ensuring that potential pet custody and visitation orders are enforced.
One way to potentially avoid this problem is by addressing the issue of pet custody in a prenuptial agreement beforehand. As USA Today reports, such prenuptial agreements are becoming increasingly popular with pet owners. These agreements allow spouses to ensure that their pets are treated as family members in the event of a divorce rather than simply as property.
The most important issue such agreements can settle is who retains ownership of the pet. Additionally, however, a prenuptial agreement can address issues that go beyond simply establishing who gets custody of the pet after divorce. Such agreements, for example, commonly establish visitation rights and responsibility for food and veterinarian care.
When drafting a prenuptial agreement, it is important to make sure it is done right in order to avoid potential future challenges. An experienced family law attorney can help couples who have any family law concern, including with ensuring their prenuptial agreement protects their interests and wishes.