Sunday 8 December 2019

Hangdog: The rise of the puppy prenup


Under the dispassionate eye of divorce law, dogs are considered chattels (unlike children, the court won’t decide where it’s in their best interests to live post-split) – they’re treated as shared goods.
Under the dispassionate eye of divorce law, dogs are considered chattels (unlike children, the court won’t decide where it’s in their best interests to live post-split) – they’re treated as shared goods.

Flic Everett

Break-ups are never easy, especially when kids are involved – so goes the conventional wisdom surrounding divorce.

Now we should start adding dogs and cats to the mix. I mean, how often these days do we see divorcing celebrities who pledge to remain loyal pet parents?

Under the dispassionate eye of divorce law, dogs are considered chattels (unlike children, the court won’t decide where it’s in their best interests to live post-split) – they’re treated as shared goods.

However, as the recent celebrity break-up of Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong has highlighted, it’s no good packing up the terrier along with the broken radio alarm and back copies of Wired.

While a Marie Kondo-style decluttering of possessions may be welcome, almost nobody wants to say goodbye to their beloved pets.

Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks recently split from her husband, actor Geoffrey Arend. They released a charmingly optimistic joint statement, saying: "We will always be grateful for the love we’ve shared, and will always work together to raise our two beautiful dogs."

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Geoffrey Arend and Christina Hendricks have said they will both continue to care for their pet dog, post divorce

It’s a nice thought, but there’s generally only one person shrugging on a coat at 10pm and heading into a howling gale to supervise pre-bed wee-wees – and that’s the one who gets the residency order.

The ex might get the occasional visit for a cuddle, but they’re not going to have to be up at 4am with a sick cat, nor are they going to benefit from the sheer joy of living with pets, absorbing the adoring comfort of dogs who know you’re sad, or the admirable indifference of an ageing cat who wants to sleep on your head.

When I split up with my ex in 2014, I got custody of our two rickety old cats, and – while the intervening years have not been kind (one died and the other is so old he lists like a galleon in a storm when he stands up) – their presence has been a delight.

My current partner and I now share a spaniel, and I can’t imagine the agonising tug of love, should we split (hence, we can’t).

In the first flush of love, when it’s too soon to commit to a baby, many couples opt for a puppy instead, often overlooking the fact that dogs live around 14 years, which is longer than many ill-fated marriages.

Despite TV host Ant McPartlin and his wife splitting more than a year ago, their chocolate Labrador Hurley is still proving the main difficulty.

"Hurley’s welfare comes first and we both love him very much," said Ant, months after the break-up.

Equally committed to their rainbow family of multiple canines are Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux. When they broke up last year, there was talk of shared custody of their four dogs, but with Jennifer in LA and Justin in New York, regular Sunday visits proved impossible.

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Justin Theroux and Jennifer Aniston (PA)

However, when Dolly (living with Jennifer) died recently, the couple "reunited to mourn", with Justin posting a picture of them together at the dog’s funeral.

Not everyone is so amicable, which is why some couples even demand pre-nups for pets.

Lawyer Jennifer Curtis says: "We’re seeing a growing number of divorce cases where people are arguing over the future of their pets. A third of pet owners think animals should be treated the same as children when it comes to break-ups, but the law doesn’t agree."

A pet pre-nup is a wise move, she advises, adding: "It deals with common issues like ownership and arrangements for future care of the pet, providing certainty in case the parties separate."

However, while A-listers such as Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were able to work out who got custody of Pistol, thanks to their legal teams, those of us with less cash are left to work it out between ourselves.

"Dogs are very connected with humans," says dog behaviourist Sue McCabe. "They read our emotions and understand if we’re stressed. If the person who’s leaving the family home is their primary carer, it can be very upsetting. Like us, they grieve and will feel depressed."

This potential guilt-bomb can be defused.

"Pet parents should try to come to an agreement where both partners still see the dog and have an ongoing relationship, so their emotional needs are still met," says McCabe.

Just as divorcing adults are urged to be amicable for the sake of the children, McCabe adds: "I would urge people to be mindful of the dog, and avoid shouting. Make sure the dog is kept busy, and try to do something every day that makes them happy."

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