While dog and cat owners have always been proud of the love they receive from their pets, people are increasingly considering these furry friends to be family members. According to the American Pets Products Association, pet owners spent a total of $69.5 billion on their fluffy friends in 2017. As the average age for couples deciding to marry continues to increase, many individuals are entering their marriages with a pet who has served as a well-established companion. Additionally, when an engaged couple adopts or purchases a dog or cat, they may wonder which partner would assume custody of the animal in the case of a divorce. Around the U.S., more divorce and family law attorneys are working with couples to include pets as part of the prenuptial agreement. Known as the “pet prenup,” these provisions address the couples’ concerns about how a divorce or separation would impact custody arrangements of and the general well-being of the animal.
A Part of the Family
When a divorcing couple has children, custody arrangements are included as part of the divorce proceeding. Many “pet parents,” who are typically married couples that have an animal but no children, are finding themselves concerned about how a divorce would impact the fate of their pet. Which partner retains custody? Will there be a joint-custody arrangement? Will the custodial “pet parent” be able to provide an environment that will nurture the pet’s well-being? A 2016 report says that 95 percent of pet owners in the U.S. consider pets to be part of the family, up 7 points from 2007. As we are spending more money on our furry family members and shifting our view to treat them like our own children, it makes sense that pet owners would seek protections for their pets when entering into marriage.
Divorce Court and Pets
Although most pet owners consider their cats and dogs to be part of their families, courts still tend to consider pets to be personal property. Usually, during a divorce, the partner who had originally completed the paperwork to purchase or adopt the pet will be awarded custody, similar to how other assets are handled. However, some states are starting to experiment with different ways of handling pets in divorce proceedings. Courts in California, Alaska, and Illinois will now consider the well-being of the animal when determining custody.
For pet-owning couples who are putting together a prenuptial agreement, including plans about how their animals will be handled during a divorce is advisable. Specifications about which partner will be responsible for covering vet bills, pet insurance, and other expenses after the divorce could be included. While designating child custody plans in a prenup is not allowed, some couples state that their pet will follow the same custody arrangements as the children, which will also provide support and stability for the children following a tumultuous divorce.
If you are considering putting a prenuptial agreement in place, or if you are pursuing a divorce, Lee Tyler Family Law, P.C. offers collaborative divorce services in the Portland area. Call our office today at (503) 233-8868 to learn more.