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Couples should consider legal agreement over custody of pets

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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". 

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Maintenance pending suit: Interim cash for divorcing parties

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Maintenance pending suit (MPS) does not often feature in the law reports so a recent case is noteworthy. MPS is a court process that financially supports one spouse by ordering the other to fund them during their divorce. This happens after divorce proceedings have started and lasts until the divorce proceedings come to an end by way of a final judgement regarding the finances between the parties.

In the appeal in Rattan v Kuwad, a wife successfully appealed an order allowing a husband’s appeal from an MPS order granting her monthly payments of £2,850. Permission to appeal was granted on the basis that it raised an important point of principle as to the correct approach of the court when determining applications for MPS.

The marriage had lasted for around a decade and after separating the wife remained in the former matrimonial home with the parties’ child and a child from a previous marriage. The wife began divorce and financial remedy proceedings, claiming MPS to cover, what she described as, a shortfall in her income including school fees and essential house repairs.

The Court of Appeal (CA) noted that the court’s power to make an MPS order was extremely valuable as it enables it to make an order meeting the income needs of a spouse and the children at a time when they might be in real need of financial support following the parties’ separation and commencement of proceedings. It is intended to enable the court to act expeditiously and to make an order meeting that need early in the proceedings when the evidential picture might be far from clear. It is a very broad statutory power which extends to the court making such order as the judge thinks reasonable.

Though judicial guidance has previously been given the CA made clear that the only substantive requirement is that the order must be reasonable. The purpose of it is to meet immediate needs, but the principal issue raised in this appeal was what needs qualify as being immediate and how the court should approach determination of this question.

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When is half too much? Sharp v Sharp 2017

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Sharp v Sharp [2017] changed the way the courts divide up a divorcing couple's assets where the marriage is short and childless.

The Sharp’s had been married for four years, following two years of living together.  They separated in 2013 when Mrs Sharp discovered her husband's infidelity.  

They had no children together and both worked full-time.  At the start of their marriage they were both earning similar basic annual salaries of around £100,000, but Mrs Sharp received bonuses thereafter of £10.5 million.  Mr Sharp's bonuses were insignificant. 

Before they got married they bought a property in joint names for £1.02 million which was funded solely by Mrs Sharp.  During the marriage they bought a second property in joint names for £2 million.  Other than the jointly owned properties they generally kept their finances separate.

Originally the court awarded Mr Sharp £2.725 million but Mrs Sharp appealed, saying this was too much on the basis that:-

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