I’m keeping the dog! The rise in ‘pet-nups’

Custody over pets is increasingly figuring in divorce proceedings – and one in 20 pet-owning couples now reportedly have a pet-nup detailing everything from contact time to grooming parlours


Age: Five years or more.

Appearance: Well, it’s a piece of paper with words on it.

Say what? It details what would happen to a couple’s pet in the event of a breakup.

Is that a big problem? Absolutely, if we can believe a new survey from a pet insurance company. It says 30,000 divorce cases in the past year involved a dispute over a pet. Apparently, a quarter of all divorces feature custody battles over a dog.

Makes sense. There’s all that barking, biting, pooing and walking, not to mention the vaccinations, vet’s bills, food bills,messand smell … Just owning a dog ought to be grounds for a divorce.You misunderstand. These are disputes between people who want the dog to live with them.

Seriously?This may be hard for you to understand, but some people love their pets almost as if they were children. That’s why pet-nups exist.

Is this a real thing? It certainly is. The first legally binding pet-nup was reportedly launched in 2014 by the rehoming charity Blue Cross, although there are mentions of them earlier. In its own survey, the law firm Maguire reports that one in 20 pet-owners in a relationship now has a pet-nup, and another third said they would consider getting one.

I suppose20 minutes of ticking boxes would be worth itto save a nasty argument later. It might be more than 20 minutes. Maguire provides a template to give people an idea of what a pet-nup looks like.

And what does it look like?Eleven pages long, with clauses covering everything from contact time and breeding rules to how both parties will agree where the pet will be groomed.

That’s, um … thorough.“During any period of handover of the Pet, both parties agree that they shall not act in a hostile or aggressive manner towards each other in front of the Pet.”

Plan for When You’re Not There. Make sure your pets are provided for during those long hours when you’re away. Dr. Becker suggests technological options. “DOGTV has stimulation and relaxation channels, and there are apps that control contraptions that talk to your pet, or dispense treats. Pheromone sprays can also reduce anxiety, creating that kumbaya atmosphere.” And, of course, daycare and dog walkers are a great way to enrich your pet’s day. “Know someone who wants exercise? Maybe they’ll walk your dog.”

Because a gerbil could be traumatised by the sight of its bickering owners? I guess.

Can’t the courts just decide, like they do with children? Not really. Pets are simply property by law, so there aren’t special provisions for taking care of them. If a couple can’t agree, a judge might require a pet to be sold or bought by one from the other.

Sounds very sensible. Although things can still get complicated. In one case in the US, the wife registered a doberman as her “emotional support animal”, which her husband disputed.

Clever. Do you think I could register an “emotional support house”? I’m not sure that will work.

Do say: “One divorcing couple had a terrible argument over which puppy school their dog should attend.”

Don’t say: “It was Tamer v Tamer.”