Recently in the mediaI’m A Celebrity presenter Ant McPartlin and ex-wife Lisa Armstrong made headlines after finalising the settlement of their £31m divorce. But the news that a judge had been required to rule joint custody of their Labrador Hurley, because they couldn’t agree between themselves, caught the public’s attention. They aren’t the only ones to dispute canine custody: in 2016, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard also fought over their Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, as they split.

A pet to many is a member of the family, a loved one – so when a relationship breaks down, the battle for who keeps the pet can become difficult, with some owners even opting to go to court to determine who should be the one to take ownership.

Pets are considered by the court in the same way as property, they are seen as assets. For example, who bought the dog, paid for its food, vet bills and insurance, would be a key factor. However, the actual relationships between owners and pets over the years are beginning to be recognised by the courts in England and Wales.

It might be sensible to pre-plan just in the event of a relationship breakdown, by creating a ‘pet-nuptial’ agreement. A ‘pet-nup’ can have a significant impact on any decision the court is asked to make and sets out the intentions of the parties prior to marriage. It can outline custody agreements, as well as financial responsibilities, i.e. vet bills. Whilst it is not officially binding in the UK, it is certainly an influencing factor in deciding what happens to a pet and very much taken into consideration.

When drafting the agreement, it’s important to bear in mind what would be solely best for the animal – the agreed owner must adhere to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and agree to be responsible for caring for the animal in all eventualities.

For further advice regarding pet-nuptials or pet related disputes, please contact us on 01792 468684 or email

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