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Pets in Relationship Breakdown

By Vanessa Lloyd Platt
Posted: 30th September 2016 08:24
For some years Lloyd Platt & Co, our niche divorce and matrimonial practice has noticed that the issue of pets comes up time and time again in matrimonial cases.  This applies to both divorce and cohabitation cases, as well as issues concerning pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements. 
The reality is that there is a clear gap in the law and in 2014 Lloyd Platt & Co decided that that gap where it relates to pets of any nature had to be plugged.
In law at the current time, pets are regarded as a chattel.  They have the same status as a fridge/freezer.  The Courts do not have the power to make Orders relating to the lifestyle of any animal, how the same should be fed, treated and any issues of their welfare.  The only issues the Court can deal with are applications for:
(a)   A declaration of who owns the pet;
(b)   An order for the return of the pet if the same is unlawfully detained;
(c)    An order for damages for wrongful retention of the pet;
(d)   Damages for loss of the value of the pet;
(e)   An order that the pet should be sold and proceeds divided as directed in accordance with an agreement; or
(f)     Can make an order for shared ownership as prescribed times.
Where parties are seeking to argue over who is best placed to look after the pet, the Courts can of course make orders regarding their shared ownership but the courts have to rely entirely on experts to give information regarding care of the animal.
Unfortunately, there is no law of custody, residence or contact to pets, and lifestyle clauses cannot be enforced.  

In these circumstances the parties would find themselves arguing over issues where the Court would have no power to intervene.
It was for this reason that in 2014 Lloyd Platt & Co drew up the world’s first pet-nuptial agreement or deed of agreement (contract) to set out a binding agreement between the parties concerning what should happen in the event that their relationship breaks down.  The nature of this pet-nup which we drew up in conjunction with the Blue Cross Animal Charity was intended to cover every possible contingency that we have seen in our matrimonial cases together more importantly with issues of animal welfare.  Taking into account
  • the law of contract,
  • the law relating to care of a pet,
  • the law relating to post and pre-nuptial agreements
  • and general contractual law
Whilst this agreement can be downloaded in both its shorter and longer forms from the Blue Cross website, nevertheless it is important that lawyers generally understand the effect of these types of agreements.  What was imperative in drafting was that the Court can recognise the document as a contractual agreement and that where losses are quantifiable in financial terms, the Court can enforce them.  Where one party would give rise to a financial liability as a result of their actions in relation to the pet, that they would be responsible for this and that the Court would and will enforce this in financial terms.  Further the intention was that contractually if one party with care of the pet does not fulfil their obligations that the agreement would allow the ownership to revert in part or full to the other with financial obligations more importantly that the Court would be in a position to enforce the provisions as set out.
The topics that are therefore covered by the agreement which can be adapted by any firm and incorporated if necessary into a Consent Order or a separate Deed of Agreement or any pre or post-nuptial agreement covering the following areas.  It should be noted that they equally apply to parties who simply choose to live together as cohabitees, same sex couples. Whether parties are married or in a civil partnership, or friends who live together (perhaps at university and then fall out or cease living together) or siblings, or any other party who chooses to purchase a pet together or have some kind of joint responsibility for the pet.
  1. Care of the Pet – What is imperative in dealing with these agreements is to ensure that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which came into force on 6 April 2007 is fully complied with.  This is an Act that ensures the welfare of an animal is met according to their needs and species.  These include but are not limited to the need for a suitable place to live, diet, normal behaviour patterns that the animal can be housed with or apart from other animals, to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease, to ensure that the owner or purchaser is over the age of 16 and that no pet or animal must be given as a prize to any unaccompanied children under the age of 16.  It also deals with animal cruelty and the fines that are applicable to this which can be up to £20,000 or imprisonment.  This firm invented the concept that at all times the parties would act in a “pet centric manner” towards each other and in any period of handover of the pet and to use their best endeavours not to act in a hostile manner towards each other in front of the pet. 
  2. The ownership – Can vary according to the agreement of the parties.
  3. Costs of drawing up an Agreement – Again the parties can make specific agreements about this.   
  4. Costs to be met of the pet depending on the nature of the pet.  The parties can agree that they will equally meet these expenses or it should be in unequal proportions.  They should include but are not limited to food, housing, necessary equipment for the upkeep of the pet, to take into account the pet’s health, age and the provisions of the Fines and breaches of law – Any fines that are imposed by authority relating to dogs, cats, horses etc or are relevant to the specific pet must be taken into account by the parties and in whose care the pet is at the time.
  5. Expenses of microchipping – Again this should be agreed between the parties.
  6. Holidays - The parties must agree whether the pets should be put into kennels for example or catteries or who should be responsible for looking after the pet whilst they are on vacation.  They must if in doubt refer this issue to those qualified to give such advice.  They must also consider pet passports if this is required.
  7. The costs of care from a vet – Again the parties must look at whether it is necessary to have a separate insurance policy and if so, who would be responsible for this or if a pet is terminally ill, who should be advised and how should the pet be dealt with.  Consent must not be unreasonably withheld for care of any pet. 
  8. Other welfare concerns – the agreement must always take into account that if the parties are living in say rented accommodation, whether they are entitled to keep cats and how they should be controlled, and the disparity between housing.
  9. Breeding – If the parties are to agree that they should be bread, how will they be dealt with?  How should they be disposed of and should any money pass hands? 
  10. These agreements can always be changed by agreement of the parties but at all times consider the welfare of the pet.  Sharing equal time may not be the best solution.
These agreements have brought enormous relief to thousands of people since the first of our agreements were drawn up and have now been utilised as a precedent not only across Europe but more particularly across most of the states in America.

Vanessa Lloyd Platt graduated from University College London with an LLB Hons in Law.  She has two children, Michael aged 36 and Gary aged 34.  Gary works within the practice dealing with both criminal and matrimonial law.
Lloyd Platt & Co opened in 1992 and has been involved in leading and ground breaking divorce and cohabitation cases since. 
Vanessa regularly appears on all television channels and radio stations both in Britain and internationally.  She also works as a freelance journalist for many national newspapers and has written a best-selling book and now is the resident Lawyer on This Morning.

Vanessa can be contacted on 0208 343 2998 or by email at 

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