Couples intent on marrying or living together who have acquired new pets during lockdown should consider signing a legal agreement setting out who gets custody if they break up, a Surrey law firm has said.

Camberley-based Foster Harrington said the soaring price of pedigree pets during the pandemic had increased the risk of post-split disputes. The document would stand as a binding contract, the firm said.

An estimated 3.2million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic according to the Pet Manufacturers Association.

Tony Roe, who has just joined the firm as head of family law, said that the firm started offering the service this month. He said that the firm's pet-nup - a play on the shortened version of the term pre-nuptial agreement - were documents that would act as legally binding contracts between a married or a cohabiting couple.

"Once upon a time pre-nuptial agreements were contrary to public policy. Now thousands of couples choose to plan for what needs to happen should their relationship break down and they are frequently seen as the norm. Having a pet-nup drafted is a logical next step and is good housekeeping for those entering into marriage or beginning to live together. Pets are seen as chattels and pedigree breeds can cost thousands of pounds but that overlooks the emotional attachment to them". 

Professor Therese Callus at the University of Reading said, "In 2014, the Law Commission recommended the introduction of enforceable marital property agreements subject to certain conditions, but at the time the focus was on tradition assets such as property and business wealth. No legislation has been introduced but the Supreme Court has made clear that a court is able to give effect to a pre-nuptial agreement, provided that it meets the (financial) needs of the parties, and it would not be unfair to do so. Given that pedigree dogs represent a potentially substantial financial value, it seems inevitable that for couples who are so inclined, they may well want to include their pet within their agreement on the division of their financial assets. Yet, a word of caution: given the potential for a strong emotional attachment to a pet, this might mean that over time, the parties change how they feel regarding who gets to keep the pet. It is therefore important that couples seek legal advice to ensure full discussion of the implications of any agreement they conclude.”

Recent Blue Cross research shows:

For those who couldn’t decide who should keep the pet, 15% decided to give them to a family friend, 12% to family members and 6% to pet charities such as Blue Cross