It has been reported that a total of 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. Young people are the main drivers, with more than half of new owners aged 16 to 34.
If you and your partner have a pet and have also become engaged over the past year, it might be worth considering a prenuptial agreement before tying the knot, which can include provision about what should happen to your beloved pet if you end up separating.
Although the term pre-nup can stop many a happy couple in their tracks, there are benefits to planning ahead. Sue Andrews, partner and family law specialist at B P Collins LLP, explains how prenuptial agreements work.
“A prenuptial agreement records a couple’s agreed intentions about financial, children and even pet arrangements if the relationship ends in divorce or separation,” Sue says. “Judges have a wide discretion when making financial orders, however a prenuptial agreement is one of the factors which a Judge must consider, and depending upon the circumstances, the Judge may either uphold it in its entirety or in other circumstances it is likely to influence their decisions and impact upon the outcome.”
Although not legally binding in the contractual sense, Sue says the amount of weight attached to prenuptial agreements has been increasingly influential. In simple terms, as long as a couple have entered freely into an agreement and had a full appreciation of its implications, the court should take it into account during divorce proceedings.
The reference to “freely” is important, says Sue, who advises that both parties should take separate, independent legal advice to ensure fairness and that there is no duress or misrepresentation. Each must be open and honest with the other, so that if one party is giving up future rights, they make an informed decision with all relevant information.
“If you decide a prenuptial agreement is for you, then the time to make the arrangements is as soon as you decide to get married. It’s no good waiting until a couple of months before the big day because the emotion and the stress can put huge pressure on both parties and you should aim to sign it at least 28 days before the wedding,” she added.
“It should be an agreement between future spouses or civil partners, and not one person imposing what they want on the other, and it will hopefully go some way to prevent at best or at least minimise expensive and acrimonious court proceedings.”
Having a prenuptial agreement won’t give you a cast iron guarantee on the outcome, but it can certainly affect the way the Judge applies his or her discretion when making their determination or award. “More importantly,” concludes Sue, “couples are more likely to resolve matters amicably because they have already addressed matters and agreed what they want to happen upon separation or divorce.”
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average marriage for opposite sex couples lasts for 12.2 years before ending in divorce; 4.3 years for male same sex couples and 4.1 years for female same sex couples (ONS).** As your pet could live into their late teens, what happens to them can be an important consideration for many couples during the divorce process.
*Pre nups for pets
**These smaller durations reflect that same–sex marriage has only been possible in England and Wales since March 2014 and the first of these divorces took place in 2015.