When embarking on a new life with a newfound love, no one wants to talk about the potential for divorce or separation. But, unfortunately, we cannot predict the future, no matter how unromantic. Putting a written plan in place for the well-being of your beloved pet in case you should separate from your mate is not only necessary, it's responsible pet ownership. According to the ASPCA, lifestyle changes, including divorce or a breakup, are one of the most common reasons people relinquish pets to the shelter. Pets can become a flashpoint for conflict in a separation in which exes are unable to agree on anything, let alone who gets custody of Fido. Former partners have been known to use the pet to manipulate or bargain with the other person. I remember a client telling me once that his ex-girlfriend eventually admitted to only wanting joint custody of the dog in order to stay close to my client. Having a "pupnup" can help neutralize any emotion-fueled decisions during a heated or even not-so-heated separation, and ensure the best outcome for your pet.
So what exactly is a pupnup? Similar to a prenup, a pupnup is a legal agreement meant to protect your pet in the event of divorce or break up. Unmarried couples who become pet parents together can also benefit from a pupnup.
In most states pets are considered personal property, and the law doesn't really support pet custody issues. That means when it comes to a divorce your beloved family member is legally treated the same as your couch or your car. Says Cristina Stella, managing attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, "What we would like to see is to have animals considered in the most holistic way possible. Who is the animal bonded to? Who can provide for the animal’s overall health and well-being going forward?”
Thankfully states like California and Alaska have implemented new laws that differentiate companion animals from other kinds of personal property, allowing a judge to make special considerations when it comes to pet custody, but they still aren't legally considered members of the family.
When drawing up a pupnup, here's what to consider:
Who will be financially responsible? This should take into consideration not only medical costs but food, treats, grooming, dog walkers, trainers, and anything else your pup's lifestyle might include.
Will your new living situation be dog friendly? If moving to an apartment, will it allow pets?
Is the dog partial to one person? If one party came into the relationship with the pet the legal owner with the proper paperwork gets custody of the pet unless other arrangements have been made.
Are there children involved and will their emotional attachments to the pet be considered?
Would you consider shared custody? How would that look in practice?
Are there other pets in the household and, if so, should you split up the pets from their pals?
Dogs, cats, and other pets are sentient beings and any changes to their routine or breaking of bonds within the household can be stressful and confusing for them as well. Sometimes this can manifest as behavioral issues, such as separation anxiety. It can seem overwhelming to contemplate, but it's good to also remember that science has determined that dogs can recognize emotional states in humans. If the relationship is extremely unhealthy, separation can have a positive impact on the pet as well.