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There's A Rise In Couples Getting Pet Pre-Nups

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There's A Rise In Couples Getting Pet Pre-Nups

With the coronavirus pandemic effectively locking us all inside in March last year, it seemed the right time for many couples to take the next step - sort of.

Having a baby is very high maintenance for around 18 years or so (and don't even talk to us about how difficult pregnancy can be), so instead, many of us opted to get a little fur baby instead.

We were a nation obsessed with having a pandemic pet, with 3.2 million households deciding this enforced time indoors is the perfect opportunity to welcome a special cat or dog.

Over 3.2 million households got a pet in lockdown in the UK (Credit: Unsplash)
Over 3.2 million households got a pet in lockdown in the UK (Credit: Unsplash)
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And while our beloved pooch or kitty has earned a special place in our hearts - especially when lockdown seemed like it would never end - the same can't be said for our significant others.

With the UK on the cusp of lockdown restrictions easing, we could be set to see a sudden spike in people looking to call it quits on their relationship.

Divorce rates and reports of break-ups have rocketed as couples struggled with extended periods of enforced togetherness - seeing even the most solid couples being tested to their very limits.

Leading British law firm Stewarts logged a 122 per cent increase in enquiries between July and October in 2020, compared with the same period last year, while Citizen's Advice reported a spike in searches online on how to end a relationship.

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But if you're looking to have a hot girl summer sans boyfriend in 2021, your newly acquired furry friend may be an unfortunate fly in the ointment.

Many couples fight over who gets to keep the dog (Credit: Unsplash)
Many couples fight over who gets to keep the dog (Credit: Unsplash)

Legal firm Langleys Solicitors told Tyla they have found themselves having to deal with an increasing amount of divorces with issues relating to dog ownership. Without including pets in any pre-nuptial agreements, who gets to keep the beloved family fur baby has to be settled through negotiations and mediation - which can often be tedious and time-consuming, and not to mention incredibly expensive.

Should neither party agree on which person should keep your dog, the matter may have to go to court - and you may have to pay as much as £10,000 in legal fees.

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Pet custody has also become increasingly prominent in high-profile celebrity divorces - Ant McPartlin's split from wife Lisa Armstrong saw the pair forced to share their beloved chocolate Labrador, Hurley, while Amber Heard and Johnny Depp were previously locked in a "bitter custody battle" over pups Pistol and Boo (Amber got to keep the dogs).

"Aside from the arrangements for children, deciding who takes the family pet can be one of the most difficult battles to have when dividing up assets on separation," partner in Family Law at Langleys Solicitors, Theo Hoppen, explains.

Pets may lead to contention if couples choose to split (Credit: Unsplash)
Pets may lead to contention if couples choose to split (Credit: Unsplash)

"If parties cannot agree arrangements for Fido, a Court will only be interested in who paid for the pet and who was responsible for the pet financially, unless it can be clearly shown the pet was purchased as a gift for the other party or there was an agreement that the ownership would be shared with the party who did not purchase it."

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And while we may consider our pets as part of our family, Theo adds that UK law treats pets are 'chattels' - an item of personal property, such as furniture or a car.

So, to avoid the hassle and bother court proceedings often brings, a number of legal companies are now offering 'petnups' to couples looking to purchase their first cat or dog.

While fairly common in America, petnups are still quite rare in the UK - but are now starting to gain more traction, particularly after the pandemic puppy boom.

Men win the pet in just one third of all legal disputes (Credit: Unsplash)
Men win the pet in just one third of all legal disputes (Credit: Unsplash)
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"Similarly, to a pre-nuptial agreement, petnups can set out the arrangements upon separation and confirm who the pet will live with, who will pay for vet fees and who will ultimately care for the pet," Theo explains. "When drafted correctly, a 'petnup' can form a contract between you and your partner which will likely be upheld by the Court."

In order to promote putting pet welfare at the heart of any break-up, the animal welfare charity Blue Cross has posted a free template document of a petnup on their website.

The agreement, which has been developed in partnership divorce lawyers Lloyd Platt & Company sets out the right of ownership in the event of a divorce or relationship breakdown. While some aspects of it a court won't enforce, such as dog walking and general pet care, it's a written document that proves ownership - and can help smooth over what can often be a difficult part of a split.

Petnups are getting increasingly popular for both married and cohabiting couples (Credit: Unsplash)
Petnups are getting increasingly popular for both married and cohabiting couples (Credit: Unsplash)

Blue Cross decided to make petnups for couples to clearly set out for owners what happens in the event of a split, after their research into the matter had some shocking findings.

The charity takes four pets a week on average into care as a results of splits. Meanwhile, women are generally more likely to win a legal dispute, with less than a third of men (29 per cent) retaining full ownership.

All in all, petnups are becoming increasingly sought after as splits are not just hard on us humans.

As the Blue Cross website reads: "We're encouraging pet owners to think about their beloved pets.

"We want to lessen the stress and heartache for owners and pets alike."

Featured Image Credit: Unsplash

Topics: Dog, Pets, Life, Sex & Relationships, Animals, Cats, Dogs

Kimberley Bond
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