Pet Prenups A Growing Trend

Custody disputes in cases of divorce aren’t limited to children any longer.

James Sullivan, a staff writer for The Boston Globe recently wrote a story about the growing trend for warring couples to battle over who gets to keep their pet or pets.
“For Gabriel Cheong, the most stubborn issue to resolve in one recent divorce case involved a mule,” Sullivan began. “The Quincy lawyer was accustomed to working with litigants who were at odds over custody of a family pet. But the breakup of a couple who owned a farm proved to be a real challenge. Cheong helped the ex-spouses find new homes for their horses after the dispute forced the sale of the farm. It was harder to ‘rehome’ the old mule.
“That might seem like an extreme example of a divorce settlement. In truth, however, few things will cause a parting couple to dig in their heels deeper than a mutually-cherished, four-legged companion, according to divorce lawyers.”
One result of this, according to the article, is a marked increase in attorneys recommending that clients include pets in prenuptial agreements.
“One thing that fuels the issue is that, in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property, not dependents,” the story stated. “Unlike child custody cases, a pet’s best interests are not typically considered in court. In the end, the family member who often suffers most in a divorce is the dog, say several experts.”
“If an animal is being used as a tool to get at each other, like people use children in custody (disputes),” Tracie Hotchner, the Vermont-based “Radio Pet Lady,” was quoted as saying. “They’re not putting the animal’s needs first.”
Sullivan went on to write that about 27 percent of those responding to a 2014 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers noted an uptick in pet-custody fights over the past five years, with dogs being far and away the most disputed family pet.
“But some judges refuse to hear arguments about pet custody at all, say lawyers, leaving it to the two parties to settle on their own,” the article added. “As the law stands, it’s not the judge’s responsibility to determine which party was more invested in the health and well-being of the pet …”

Growing Number Who Cohabitate Entering Legal Agreements

Marriage isn’t for everybody, but even some who simply are not the marrying kind fall in love.
And that brings up, not the pre-nup but what’s being termed the “no-nup,” an often-detailed legal agreement between people who want to live together, but without benefit of clergy. That’s a growing sector of society, according to an article this past summer in The New York Times.
“With more couples choosing to live together without marrying — the Census Bureau estimates that more than eight million couples were cohabiting in the United States in 2013, up from five million in 2006 — the potential pool of clients for these types of agreements is far from small,” according to the story.
“Maria Cognetti, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said most of the clients who ask for a cohabitation agreement have gone through marriage and divorce, and are in no hurry to revisit the travails of that journey.
“They don’t want to get remarried, but they want the protection a pre-nup would provide,” Cognetti, a divorce lawyer in Camp Hill, Pa., told The Times.
While looking to the possibility of breaking up when first moving in might seem like the ultimate romance-chiller, “prudence can trump emotion even in the most durable of unions,” the article pointed out.

The ‘prenup talk’ is well worth having

In the heat of passion, many people are lukewarm to the very notion of a prenuptial agreement.
Attorneys and financial advisors face an uphill battle, more often than not, in convincing clients that when it comes to legal protection, they should say, “I will,” prior to saying, “I do.”
“Getting couples to warm to marriage contracts can be tricky because the idea things might not work out seems ridiculous; they’re in love,” according to a recent article on the website “But advisors should discuss marriage contracts as part of every client’s financial plan, says Zena Amundsen, an advisor at Tyler and Associates in Regina, Saskatoon.”
Far from putting some kind of hex on a marriage, prenuptial agreements can bring couples closer together by sharing a deeper understanding of what each partner is bringing to the relationship.
“When you think ‘prenup,’ you’re probably thinking of celebrity couples and millionaires, but the truth is signing a prenuptial agreement … might be better for your marriage in the long run,” according to an article on the website of Rhode Island television station WPRI. “As a happy couple prepares for their big day, the last thing they want to think about is what will happen to their assets if things don’t work out. But financial experts say it’s important for couples to have the prenup talk.”
“If they have personal insurance or group benefits, they may have never spoken about that,” attorney Amundsen said. “So they’ve forgotten they need to change their beneficiaries in a new marriage.”
“And when openly taking inventory of expenses and assets, she says, clients often learn new tidbits that help them realize protecting wealth is important. For instance, one client never knew her fiancé had a boat and an RV in storage. Once they’ve agreed to negotiate and sign a contract, explain they must each have independent legal advice and there must be complete disclosure of income and assets, says Jennifer Jolly, a lawyer at BLG.”
“If they aren’t disclosing a material asset, then the contract won’t be worth what it’s written on,” she says.