'Pet prenup': Couples increasingly signing custody, visitation agreements over shared animals

On the day you bring home the new, super cute, fluffy addition to your family, you're probably not thinking about what will happen if you and your partner part ways. 

But sadly breakups are a part of life and complicated enough without fighting over joint custody arrangement of your chihuahua. 

So if divorce is on the cards, who gets to keep the pet? 

"It's a question well worth pondering," says Michelle Le Long, COO of pet insurance provider PD Insurance. 

"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."

As a solution, many couples are now signing a 'pet prenup', which Le Long says can "reduce a lot of stress and uncertainty". 

Prenuptial agreements have long been a common way of sorting finances and properties in case of a split, superseding usual marital laws that usually apply with a divorce. 

"Prenups are generally concerned with property," says 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 the primary parent and how."

Le Long says pet prenups are increasingly popular in the UK, where divorce enquiries ballooned by 122 percent in 2020 - probably due to stresses of the pandemic. 

While such splits are obviously hard on family, children 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," says Le Long, calling it a "pet insurance policy". 

"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."

And if you don't want to sign a pet prenup, maybe you could try the old trick of calling to the dog from opposite ends of the park and seeing who it runs to. Maybe that will work just as well.