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Why you may want to address pets in your prenup

Most engaged couples who put a prenuptial agreement in place do so to stipulate things like how financial issues will be handled in a divorce, how property will be divided and whether and how much spousal support will be paid. All of this can save time, money and stress if the marriage ends.

However, some couples who are bringing beloved pets into the marriage also use their prenup to lay out how custody of four-legged family members will be divided. Pets can be a hotly-contested and highly emotional issue in a divorce. Both spouses may have a strong emotional bond with a pet and need that animal now more than ever if they're now alone. Unfortunately, even when one spouse doesn't care as much about a pet as the other, they can attempt to seek full or partial custody solely to punish their husband or wife.

If a couple doesn't address the pets in a prenup and can't reach an agreement on who they'll live with as they split up, a judge will likely have to decide. While pets are viewed as property under the law in most states, some judges are more inclined to look at what is best for the animal when making such a decision than others.

As one attorney notes, "U.S. courts are starting to treat pet custody cases the way they treat child custody cases. Essentially, the court considers the pet's well-being and happiness, rather than merely settling the issue of who is an animal's rightful owner." If you need to convince a judge that you've been your pet's primary caregiver and should remain so, it's best to present evidence of everything you do for your pet (feeding, walking, vet visits and so forth).

When a couple has children, pets will typically follow the kids. While prenups can't address child custody or support, they can stipulate that any pets can remain with any children the couple has.

It can be difficult to incorporate pets in a prenup when you don't know what pets you'll have at the time of a potential future divorce. The animals you bring into the marriage may have passed away, and you may have others. Your family law attorney can help you determine how best to include current and future pet issues in your prenup.

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