People have heard of prenuptial agreements; those have been common for some time. People are frequently considering postnuptial agreements as well. Whether you are considering a prenup or a postnup, you might want to consider adding your pets to it. People who have pets are now including pet-nuptial provisions within their agreement that address what will happen in the event of a divorce. For those couples who are not married, a simple contract that addresses what to do with their pet in the event of a breakup can be beneficial as well. After all, pets are a part of your family.
If you had to decide this issue in court, the judge is likely to award your pet to just one of you, without addressing any specific parenting time for the other. Judges are busy and especially those judges without pets, just do not seem very sympathetic. Even sympathetic judges do not want to be bothered with figuring out how much time each person should have with their pet. Judges historically do not want to be bothered with the division of personal property, and your pet falls right into that category. To avoid having this litigated in court, it is best to decide this issue amongst yourselves while you are still getting along.
I have not seen judges enter orders that allow both sides “parenting time” with the pet; there is just a court order for one person to receive ownership. If you are seeking the pet exclusively in court, you will want to gather information or documents that support who initially paid for the pet, who takes care of the pet primarily, including taking the pet to the veterinarian. Although you might have been doing the primary caretaking, can you afford to continue caring for the pet?
Horses, for example, can be very expensive to board and maintain. If you cannot afford their care and upkeep, then the other party may be awarded the pet. Another consideration will be the living arrangements for the pet. If you have a high-energy dog and live in a condominium and work 16 hours a day, it might be best for the pet to live with the other party. To avoid litigation altogether though, an agreement between the two of you can cut out the costly litigation.
The court does not allow parents to put custody or child support provisions in their prenuptial or postnuptial agreements for their children, but with pets, although you feel like they are your children, they are still considered property and can be included. What types of things should be considered when looking for your pet nuptial agreement?
What is a Pet-Nuptial Agreement?
A pet-nuptial agreement is an agreement between the parties that address all aspects of your pet’s ownership and care. You can add provisions that address your pet in your prenup or postnup, or you can generate a free-standing document that addresses your agreement. This document allows you to agree beforehand on where your pet will live and how pet ownership will occur in the event of a divorce or breakup. This type of agreement can be applicable even to parties who are not married. Arranging for this document before there is a breakup can save you a lot of time and money later.
What to Consider for Your Agreement
Probably the most important aspect would be pet-time. Who is getting possession of the pet during specific times? At Anderson & Boback, we have dealt with this issue many times. One couple had show horses and it was important to them to be able to take the horses to particular shows and parades. It is important your attorney understands what is important for you when it comes to your pet so they can determine what time each of you needs with your pet.
If there is not a special reason to have the pet on any particular day and time, you can work out a standard “parenting agreement.” You will need to be very specific as to days and times, and do not forget about transportation. Who will be responsible for transporting the family pet at the beginning or end of the parenting time? Although there is not a “best interests” standard like there is with children, keep in mind that some pets adjust differently to new households. If you have a slightly neurotic animal, even though you may love having the pet in your house, it may not be good to change the animal’s environment.
Don’t Forget the Financial Aspects of Pet Ownership
Pets can be costly and you should address the cost of pet ownership in your agreement. There are annual examinations, medications, and in some instances, emergency surgeries. Your discussion should include just what types of emergencies surgeries you can both agree to, and if agreed, those costs should be split between the two of you. If the other party has significantly more income, you can pay a disproportionate amount based on the amount of money you each make.
How to Create a Pet-Nuptial Agreement
If you and your partner are looking to create a pet-nuptial agreement, please give us a call so we can counsel you and draft the agreement.
To prepare for making your pet-nuptial agreement, you and your partner should:
- Have an idea of who is going to be the primary caretaker, and what time the other party will get. Think about who will do the transporting. The schedule should be very detailed listing the date and time of exchanges. You can always agree to change times later, but do not enter an agreement that says time with the pet will be “agreed upon by the parties.” That agreement never materializes so it is always best to list the schedule out.
- Know how the costs of caring for the pet will be shared between both parties. This includes general living costs, like food, toys, vet bills, and whether you need a dog walker. You will want to address now how reasonable expenses have to be or you may end up paying for your dog’s weekly spa treatments!
- Decide where the visit will occur. Dogs are typically more agreeable to move households while cats may not. If you have a horse, part of the agreement should address allowing the other party to be present at the stables or boarding facility so one party cannot block access.
Agreements Made When While You Get Along are Always Best
No one wants to think about entering into agreements during a breakup. It is always best to have this conversation while you are getting along and are more reasonable. If you need advice on pet-nuptial provisions for your prenup or postnup, please give us a call.