I ran into an old colleague the other day. He recently broke off a long term engagement with his fiancé. He proceeded to tell me that they get along well and had an elaborate custody and visitation agreement with….their dogs! I looked at him like he was nuts, but he told me it works well, and it is the best thing for their pets.
I understand the importance pets can play in people’s lives and in their relationships. People treat their pets as part of their family because, well, they are. Unfortunately, the Courts generally don’t. In the eyes of the law, pets are viewed as pieces of property, like furniture. In many of the estate plans we draft for our clients, we specifically address pet trusts. However, where the termination of a relationship is not caused by death and you cannot make arrangements with your spouse or partner in your breakup, disastrous results can occur. Judges have separated pets or simply flipped a coin to determine ownership as they have little patience for such issues.
However, there is a trend in favor of pet rights. In Nevada the domestic violence statutes were recently amended to define injury to an ex-partner’s pet as domestic violence, which could result in mandatory confinement and a loss of the right to own a gun. New York has dedicated an entire Court to address pet rights. In a Nevada divorce, pets are still considered pieces of property. Therefore, there is a new trend to engage in “Petnups” or “Pupnups”, “Catnups”, “Fishnups” or whatever kind of “nup” you may have to agree on how to split ownership of a pet after a couple breaks up. While it is relatively common to address financial matters in prenuptial agreements, no one ever brings up the issue of pet ownership in such documents. This is a bad idea as more and more people are willing to fight for the rights to own the pets after a divorce. People spend a significant amount of money on their pets and treat them as part of the family. There are even pet health care plans. So, why not make the pet part of the prenup? One purpose of a prenup is to save money on litigation later. So, don’t leave out an issue you are going to fight about in Court. Fido will be better off if you spend it on him.
If you are interested in ensuring that your family pet is protected, please contact our experienced Las Vegas estate planning attorneys today at 702-798-4955.