Pets – A New Reason for Prenups?

Prenuptial agreements are not the most romantic topic for couples who are getting ready to tie the knot and can often be seen as quite controversial. However, it is important to understand the benefits and protections that a prenuptial agreement can offer in the event the marriage does not work out.

Prenuptial agreements are commonly thought to protect property and assets, but as the world today evolves, couples are facing new issues during divorce that could be eliminated with a well-constructed prenuptial agreement, such as what would happen to the family pet. Many families today are left wondering who gets the family pet after divorce. One of our family law attorneys can help make sure that you and your pets are protected in the event of a divorce or separation.

Pets and Divorce

While many people view their pets as their children, North Carolina law, however, does not. Under North Carolina law, pets are viewed as property and treated as such in the eyes of the judge. If a pet was acquired prior to the marriage, then it will be viewed as separate property and your spouse will likely not have a legal right to the animal. However, if the pet was acquired after the marriage, it will likely be considered as marital property and will be listed as an asset for the purposes of property division.

If the couples cannot come to an agreement on what happens with the pet, or marital property, then a judge will decide for them. Courts will even monetize the value of the pet depending on factors such as whether the dog is pure bred or used for breeding. This monetary value is then added into the total assets for the purposes of property division. Usually though, if a pet is not used for breeding and is your typically family dog or cat that was adopted from the local shelter, there is little monetary value given. Of course, the true value of a family pet is love, affection and companionship; not necessarily monetary value.

Some other factors that a court may consider when determining which party is granted the pet are:

  • Which party could provide the best home for the animal?
  • Which party is best able to financially meet the animal’s needs and expenses?
  • Who was the primary caregiver for the animal prior to the separation?
  • A child’s interest in the family pet
  • Another important piece of information to note is in the event of abuse or domestic violence, custody of the pet will likely go to the victim. According to N.C.G.S. 50-B3 courts have the authority to include the disposition of a pet when
Joint Custody

If the divorce is amicable and parties are willing to agree on a custody schedule, this can be a viable option and comes with several advantages, such as sharing the financial burden and time commitment of owning a pet. A joint custody agreement for a pet is not something that can be established in a court of law but can be drawn up by an attorney if both parties agree.

There are many considerations to include in a joint custody agreement, aside from a visitation schedule, such as:

  • Who will handle the medical expenses?
  • Who will handle other financial obligations?
  • What will happen in the event of an emergency?
  • What will happen at the end of your pet’s life?
Benefits of Including Your Pet in Your Prenuptial Agreement

Divorce, in and of itself, is an emotional and traumatic event. Prenuptial agreements eliminate some of the emotions and stress associated with divorce and give parties the opportunity to make fair and informed decisions about things that are most important to them. Prenuptial agreements are especially beneficial when the pet in question is a source of income, such as a racing horse, pure-bred dog used for breeding or a dairy cow. By having this discussion upfront and coming to an agreement that has to be followed in the event the marriage dissolves, you not only save yourself from the possibility of additional stress, but also make sure your family pet is protected.

Make Sure You Are Protected

North Carolina law does not specifically grant protections for family pets and this can be a controversial gray area during a separation or divorce. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, we understand that pets are an important part of every family. If you are planning to be married and are interested in a prenuptial agreement it is important to consult with a local family law attorney who will help to ensure your rights (and pets) are protected. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to speak with one of our dedicated family law attorneys about your unique circumstances.