Pet Prenups: Who gets the pet?

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A breakup or a divorce is hard enough as it is, but what happens when there’s a pet involved? That’s where pet prenups come in.

It may seem silly but many people are now resorting to legal agreements to answer the question: Who gets the pet? Experts said it’s a good idea for couples to consider such an agreement while a relationship is still good.

From common animals like cats and dogs to more exotic ones, many people consider their pets as part of the family. They’re even treated like children.

“I think it should be treated just like you would treat your children or any of the other things that are important in your life,” Amanda Rubino said.

For Rubino, she never expected to end up with her dog, Ham.

“I was with my ex-boyfriend for a couple years; he had been wanting to get a dog,” she said. “So it was something he talked about – the breed – everything you see is what he wanted.”

It was an unwritten, unspoken agreement that Ham was his.

“When and if the relationship ended, I was leaving alone,” Rubino said. “I never imagined that I would take the dog.”

And when that happened, that’s exactly what Rubino did. She said it was hard to lose her relationship and her best friend.

“We just were super close,” she said. “We were a pack; we were a family.”

Rubino went several months without seeing Ham before reconnecting with her ex and agreeing to take care of Ham together.

“We’d go back-and-forth and just co-parent the dog,” she said.

After a while, it became obvious that Rubino could better provide Ham the life he deserves.

“So I ended up with Ham,” she explained.

But not everyone can work out what’s best for the pet in the case of a split.

“Oftentimes, that is when it is the most bitter fight because people need to win,” attorney Michael Assaf said.

Assaf has litigated several pet custody battles and said the cases are frequent.

“The standard has become ‘the best for all concerned,’ which is somewhat reminiscent of the child custody standards, which are in the best interest of the child,” he said.

Assaf said it doesn’t always work out. In one case, he said no one ended up with the pet.

“They had an access schedule for their dog, which was accomplished by putting their dog on Amtrak every week,” he said. “Very stressful for the pet, and the pet passed away, I want to say, three or four weeks into the access schedule.”

Traditionally, animals have been viewed as property under law, but that has changed over the past several years as relationships between people and their pets have evolved, too.

“People are getting married much later, they’re having fewer children, and instead, they’re transferring that emotional attachment to pets,” Assaf said.

Assaf said that although suggesting a legal agreement can put a damper on a relationship, it can prevent heartache.

“It is also the mature and appropriate thing to do, and it avoids a very nasty battle down the road,” he said.

Now, Rubino and Ham have been together on their own for two years.

“I look at him and my cat and my horse as my children,” she said.

She said there’s nothing that could tear them apart.

“I would never give him up for anything,” she said. “There is nothing that could come along where I would be like, no, I can’t have my dog.”

When it comes down to it, it’s important to have discussions about what to do in case of a breakup before getting to that point with your significant other.

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