Forty-one percent of pet owners in a relationship list their pet as the factor most likely to influence their decision to stay together when going through a rough patch, according to a survey of 250 people conducted by Bought By Many.
For a lot of pet owners, uncertainty around pet custody after a breakup and potential disputes seems to be one of the main reasons they’d avoid calling it quits. But could a new form of pre-nup relieve these anxieties?
Should you sign a pet-nup?
The New York Post’s pet columnist Julia Sazbo lived with her husband for eight years after they separated, including sharing a bed with him, for the sake of their six dogs. When they finally split up, a tug of war over their dogs ensued, with both of them going to great lengths, including consulting a pet psychic, to get to keep the favourite white Pitbull Angus.
This might sound extreme, but it turns out that for many couples in the UK that share pets, it is becoming a common occurrence.
Around 30,000 divorce cases last year involved a legal dispute around a pet, reports the Daily Mail. This averages out to 90 legal disputes over a pet a day.
A recent report by Direct Line suggested that some pet owners might fight to get the pet out of vengeance and then even re-home or put it down.
And although 60% of the respondents in our survey said they’d be likely to sign a pet-nup if their partner suggested it, 49% said they'd feel too awkward to bring up the topic of what would happen with the pet if they broke up.
But given that pets are considered property in UK law, therefore visitation rights can't be legally granted to the losing party, a pet-nup might give pet owners peace of mind.
What is a pet-nup?
The first legal pet pre-nup, or pet-nup, was reportedly launched by the Blue Cross in 2014. The charity says they see a lot of pets being re-homed after a breakup. Now pet-nups are becoming more popular among pet owners, according to UK law firm Maguire Family Law.
The pet-nup is a lot like a pre-nup - a document in which you can outline pet care arrangements after a breakup, eg who gets the pet, does the other partner get to visit, or take it on holidays and how often.
Do pets suffer when their owners split?
Animal behaviourist Dr Kate Mornement says she sees a lot of pets suffer because of separation. The dismantling of the relationship causes attachment bonds to break and disrupts pets’ routine.
Cecile Mejdel, a veterinary inspector, advises that pets are affected by separation and often exhibit behavioural problems.
On the other hand, just like children, pets might be better off suffering the anxieties of a breakup rather than those of a broken home, says Dr Mornement.
So, separating and reaching a consensus might be best for all parties involved after all.
Easier said than done: More Than’s study revealed that more people were willing to fight over who gets to keep the pet rather than over valuable possessions and money.
The standard procedure for pet custody disputes in the UK
Rivalling couples have the option to settle the matter in court. In the UK, these cases are heard in the Small Claims Court and are on the rise, according to divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt.
However, under UK law, dogs and cats are considered inanimate objects, so when the court decides to give the pet to one partner, it cannot legally grant visitation rights to the other partner any more than it could grant visitation rights for your previously shared DVD collection.
But what if your breakup was somehow amicable enough for you to opt in for sharing the pet between your two households?
Sharing a pet with an ex
When it comes to sharing a pet across two homes, the experts are not unanimous. Veterinary researcher Cecilie Mejdell stresses the importance of routine for both dogs and cats.
Although she says most dogs are likely to cope well with living in two homes, she reminds us of cat’s preference for places rather than people and puppies and older dog’s need of stable routine.
She goes one step further to suggest that the best thing for the animal might be for it to live with the partner it is more attached to, meaning one partner saying goodbye for good.
Whereas, with their book What about Wally: Co-parenting a pet with your ex, family lawyer David Pisarra and pet expert Steven May hope to help couples see that co-parenting is the way to go for both the partners and the pet.
Pisarra and May, who both share pets with their former partners, say that it’s been beneficial for the pet and for the harmony of their friendships with their exes.
Doing what’s best for the pet
A growing number of couples in the UK have pets together. With the average dog lifespan being ten years and the average cat lifespan 15, the pets often outlive the relationships, leaving couples with the difficult decision of who gets the pet after separation.
In child custody battles, the court always decides based on what’s best for the kids, and this should be no different.
So, what it really comes down to is checking your ego at the door and allowing your pet’s needs, rather than your own, to inform your decision, and perhaps getting a pet-nup.