Prenuptial agreements – contracts signed before marriage to decide who gets what in a divorce – used to only be the subject of celebrity gossip columns.
But these days, more and more savvy couples are making arrangements just in case they break up, and enjoying more amicable splits because of their pre-planning.
Still, it might strike you as odd to include cats, dogs, and other pets in these contracts.
“The dog or the cat or the family pet becomes like a child,” attorney Eric Meredith told USA Today.
“With that, comes the emotional turmoil of when there is a divorce or separation of who takes the dog.”
And so, pet prenups that plan which half of the couple will keep their pets (or any future pets) are becoming a popular way to limit the drama.
It makes sense, since plenty of young couples are putting pets, or “fur babies,” before settling down or having kids of their own.
And just like with young children, arguing over who gets to keep the pets after a divorce can drive a separated couple even further apart.
Some former spouses even say their partners used the threat of taking a pet away as a bargaining chip to settle their divorce.
A particularly nasty fight over three dogs from New York even made headlines nationwide in 2014, when the feuding couple were actually allowed to argue for custody of their dogs before a judge before deciding to settle out of court.
If you’ve missed your chance to draw a prenup for your pooch, and worry your partner could take it away, there are methods to improve your chances in a canine custody dispute.
Meredith warns that whoever takes care of the pet, took them to the vet, and paid for the pet’s supplies and vet bills will stand a better chance of gaining custody – especially if you can prove it in court.
Ultimately, your strongest claim to a pet is being its legal owner on the paperwork.
Without a prenup to easily settle the dispute, dogs are considered “property” in the eyes of the law, so your name on the paperwork is the best proof that the dog is “yours.”
But basically, Meredith warned, “You’re gonna have to deal with it in litigation.”
Although, some states are beginning to account for pets differently in divorce proceedings. California will soon let couples argue for ownership of their dogs, and states like Alaska and Illinois are following suit.
New York is perhaps the most progressive state when it comes to pet custody, letting judges account for “what’s best for all,” including the pets themselves.
Until other states catch up, signing a prenup to protect your pets is the best way to plan for their future.