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Why you should include pets in your prenuptial agreement

If you and your spouse-to-be are bringing a four-legged companion into the marriage, or if you intend to adopt pets as a couple, you may want to consider including them in your prenuptial agreement. Increasingly, couples are putting pet provisions in their prenups.

While couples can't address issues involving child support or custody in these agreements, they can address matters involving the custody and support of their four-legged family members. This can save a lot of conflict if the couple ends their marriage.

A pet prenup can also prevent one spouse from using the pet as a bargaining chip for getting something else they want. As one attorney explains, "One partner knows the emotions the other has [for] the pet and uses it against them in the divorce." Sometimes, of course, both spouses are equally attached to their animals and genuinely believe that they can provide the best home for them. Either way, the battle can get messy and expensive.

Prenup provisions for pets can detail where each pet will live or how custody will be shared. They can address who will make medical decisions and who will pay for veterinary care and insurance, as well as everyday care.

In most states, pets are still viewed under the law as "property," so when couples have to turn to a judge to decide who gets them, these judges don't have to consider what's best for the animals. Often, decisions are based on which spouse is listed as the animal's "owner."

Increasingly, however, state laws are providing guidance for judges to consider what's best for the animals. California is enforcing a law at the beginning of 2019 that gives judges the authority to consider the pet's well-being. The courts also will have the authority to determine who will care for the couple's pets until the divorce agreement is final.

It may be difficult to include pets you don't yet have in a prenup. Because our pets have relatively short lifespans, a couple may have multiple animals throughout their marriage. Each spouse may bond more closely with some of them than others.

Sometimes couples will stipulate in a prenup that the pets' custody schedule will follow whatever is determined for the kids. Of course, not all couples have children. If you're considering including current and future pets in your prenup, your family law attorney can help you do that.

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