Splitsville & the Increasingly Popular Pet Prenup
Nobody likes thinking about life’s more unpleasant realities, but that’s exactly what astute individuals do every day. Risk mitigation means looking both ways before crossing the road, taking care of your health, and recognising your mortality by having a last will and testament.
With marriage, a prenuptial agreement has become almost a standard feature, given a high number of unions end in divorce. The prenup makes life easier for all parties in bringing certainty in difficult times.
However, the one area where many separated couples still lack comparable certainty is the family fur babies. If divorce is on the cards, who gets to keep the dogs and cats?
“It’s a question well worth pondering,” says Michelle Le Long, Chief Operating Officer at pet insurance provider pd.co.nz. “Knowing who will take responsibility for the furry members of the family, under what sort of visitation and other arrangements, is crucial in moving on from a separation or divorce.
“It means pet care won’t come down to petty wrangling, nor cause additional friction at an already fraught time.”
In other words, she says, “you don’t want to be fighting like cat and dog over the cats and dogs. Divorce is notoriously unpleasant and can be combative, and pets often bear the wrath of a spiteful ex-partner. A pet prenup can reduce a lot of stress and uncertainty.”
Generally, a prenuptial agreement is a legal contract entered into by a couple prior to marriage or a civil union. It effectively supersedes default marital laws that usually apply with a divorce, specifically around division of property (who gets what), retirement benefits, savings, and the right to seek spousal support.
“Prenups are generally concerned with property,” notes Le Long, “And although we think of pets as family, in the law’s eyes they are property. This distinction is important. It means you can and arguably should create a ‘pet prenup’, detailing who will be primary parent and how.”
With pet ownership soaring thanks to COVID, and relationships being put to the test in today’s unusual circumstances, Le Long says it is telling that in the United Kingdom – where divorce enquiries ballooned by 122 percent in 2020 – pet prenups are increasingly popular.
“While New Zealand isn’t the UK, we do know a large proportion of us welcomed a pet during and after lockdown. We also know the pandemic has produced unique stresses for us all.”
She adds that divorce is hard on the couple concerned, their children and family, and friends: “What can be overlooked is that divorce is often confusing and upsetting for our fur kids. Just like us, dogs and cats are creatures of habit, and they form bonds with multiple members of your family. If relationships and living arrangements change, they may well feel unsettled and stressed.”
“In the absence of clear arrangements on pet care post break-up, adverse effects can be exacerbated. And that, really, gets to the heart of the case for pet prenups.”.
The good news is a legally binding pet prenup doesn’t necessarily require a lawyer’s services, though some folks may prefer the stamp of officialdom provided by a qualified legal practitioner. For most, however, pet prenup templates are readily available online from several local law offices.
“A prenup is a bit like a pet insurance policy,” says Le Long. “While you don’t want risk to become reality, if it does, it always pays to be prepared. For both your and your pet’s overall well-being.”
Leandri Smith – The Mail Room
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