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Why you should know your “pre-nups” and “pet-nups”

11th September 2015

Not too long ago I was reading a Family Law periodical when an article leapt out at me.

Initially I thought it was more evidence of my need for spectacles but, for once, I was wrong. The article was entitled – ‘Law Society encourages use of Pet nups’ – surely a typo I thought but indeed, it was not. Seemingly evidence has emerged via the Law Society that 1 in 4 divorces involves a dispute over pets.

Research with a pet charity Blue Cross backs this up confirming that, rather unsurprisingly, dogs and cats are the most fought over, followed apparently by horses, rabbits and guinea pigs.

When I contemplated a career in the law, I never thought it possible that I would be dealing with a ‘pet nup’, but never say never in this area. It is almost trite to say that family pets are cherished by all and so, if a relationship ends, there will be tension and anxiety, but this is often true. It is, therefore, in everyone’s interest for there to be certainty, both for people and pet alike.

On reflection, I have had several cases in which disputes about pets have arisen. It seems that the use of ‘pet nups’ may very well be a means of avoiding the worst excesses of a difficult breakdown in your relationship.

Alyson Jones, Rehoming Development Manager at Blue Cross commented in Family Law Week, “At our rehoming centres we deal with some very upsetting situations when pets are brought to us following relationship splits. It really is devastating for everyone involved – including the pet. One partner will sometimes bring a pet to us for rehoming without the others knowledge.

Our pets are not just material goods; they are often at the heart of our home lives so it is a good idea to agree on your pets’ future in advance to make a difficult situation easier. It may make sense to agree upfront who will keep your pet so that they do not get dragged through the Courts or end up in our re-homing centres”.

So there now appears an acknowledgment that pets matter too and that arrangements should be made in advance to regulate their welfare. This should be balanced against what each person wishes to happen should the relationship end. The agreement could also potentially contain a ‘pet arrangements’ agreement, equivalent to contact to a child.

On a related, dare I say more serious note, I recently reviewed the law on pre-marriage agreements (or ‘pre-nups’) in a local magazine article. The Courts have provided further clarification of when such agreements might be ignored.

The starting point is the well-known case of Radmacher which said agreements can have “magnetic” importance if they are properly entered into and are fair. As always, the devil is in the detail, but there is still resistance in my view, to accepting the approach which must be taken.

In one particular case, the agreement was prepared by an experienced adviser following full and frank disclosure and with the full understanding of the terms by both parties. Despite this, the Court would not enforce the agreement and awarded the husband an initial housing fund of £900,000.00, and ordered that his extensive debts should be paid, contrary to the prior agreement, between the parties.

The Court ruled that the agreement was weak and even unfair from the very start. A supplemental agreement had been signed during the course of the marriage and the Court gave greater weight to that. It is now suggested that solicitors should provide for reviews within pre-marriage agreements to ensure that both parties’ ongoing needs are met by the documents in place.

So the message is clear, whatever your sense of fairness may be, unless it meets a Judge’s sense of fairness, a pre-nuptial agreement will not be upheld. It is often very difficult to accept this point at the stage a pre-nuptial agreement is negotiated and, to some degree, these agreements are still ‘alien’ to English legal and social values, but without grasping the nettle, it is really not worth doing.

To assist it is necessary to have, and to consider carefully, the legal advice which is available and to implement this in the agreement.

Jim Richards. Solicitor, family department.

Family Law, General, George Ide, News
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