Have you moved in with a partner? Perhaps you’re thinking about marriage, or even living with someone platonically. It’s been said, first, you get together then you multiply whether that’s a child, dog, or pet. If it’s getting a dog or pet together, then the question becomes, is there a long-term way to protect the furry friend if you should part ways at some point? This is a question I’ve heard a lot. It’s a good question and one that deserves a deep dig with good answers. So, grab some tea or coffee and we’ll tackle the question of getting a dog with a partner.
Budget tip: There are many legal forms online for free as long as you're cautious about where you get them, how you select them (for your state), and fully fill them out. Additionally, they can be a very good guide or provide a great template to start. However, there are times you will still want to consult an attorney to protect your dog and pets from a possible separation. Even a notary may cost a small fee, but it’s well worth it. In my opinion, if you are planning to get a dog or a pet, with your significant other, you need to have a proactive plan in order to protect yourself and your dog. These actions will help do that in a reasonable way. You can even add these costs to your one-time dog budget costs. It's a good idea and a budget-wise idea!
First a bit of background
I have to admit, I’ve been looking at this issue for years. I remember as a kid this particular issue came up when my cousin got divorced. She and her husband had a very amicable divorce with all their assets, except for their shared basset hound, Sam. They ended up going to court over Sam. The judge ruled that Sam’s custody should be split equally between the two of them along with the expenses. Yep, joint custody for Sam. However, they had no kids, which was a big consideration in the judge’s ruling.
Sam the dog was a cool dog and his joint custody stuck with me over my lifetime.
NOTE: I’m not an attorney. Although, I have consulted different attorneys and done a lot of research on this topic because it has fascinated me. However, when in doubt, I always recommend consulting an attorney in your area.
Are there any kind of precautions to take before getting a dog or pet with a partner?
The steps you take, while similar, will be different if you are cohabitating (living with a person whether platonically or otherwise) or moving in because you’re getting married.
First, if you’re living with someone and want to get a dog together there will be a few considerations. Of course, you both should want to be dog parents. That means your significant other should be a dog person as much as you. It’s never a good idea to get a pet together when one person is against the idea for whatever reason.
NOTE: Animals under state and federal laws are viewed as personal property. Basically the same as a pair of shoes. So, it’s up to you to take the steps necessary to protect them.
Finances and care responsibilities
Discuss the financial and care responsibilities upfront. Who will do what dog chores and who will pay for what dog expenses?
You will want to write it all out and be as specific as possible.
It could be that you switch months, quarters, or even have a percentage of time or money you each donate to the dog. Write that out as specifically as possible.
Some of the expenses you will want to discuss are:
- Food (including treats and dental chews)
- Medical care (including vet bills, prescriptions, and related expenses)
- Emergency vet
- Pet insurance
- Rental pet deposit fee
- Monthly pet rental fee
- Dog walker
- Pet sitter
- Supplies (replacement beds, collars, leashes, toys, bowls, kennels, shampoos, conditioners, dental supplies, and related expenses)
- Dog training
Also, write out who will do various dog chores such as:
- Washing bedding and supplies
- Cleaning up accidents
- Going to training classes
- Picking up yard dog poop
What type of legal documents will I need when getting a dog with a partner?
The Cohabitation Agreement will make the ownership of the pet official between you and your partner. While the Pet Custody Agreement will set the grounds for what will happen to the dog if you and your partner should separate at some point.
How to link the legal agreements when getting a dog with a partner?
You will want to link the two legal agreements.
To do this first within the Cohabitation Agreement refer to the Pet Custody Agreement under the “termination or amendment”
Additionally, within the Cohabitation Agreement, you can be super specific with who will do what and who will pay for what concerning the dog or pet.
This is where you’ll want to note how the expenses will be paid such as equally (50%) or perhaps alternate months and if medical is split equally (50-50) or alternates with visits. However, you and your significant other up these chores and expenses is what you’ll want to detail in this agreement. These details will aid you if you and your partner should break up at some point.
Here’s a link to prepare, download, and print out your own free Cohabitation Agreement
Now, that you’ve downloaded the Cohabitation Agreement, you need a Pet Custody Agreement. Here’s a link to a free Pet Custody Agreement template. Simply plug in your state and customize it.
Can I include my dog and pets in a prenup?
The short answer is yes. However, like with most prenups, you’ll want to consult an attorney in your area to make sure that your dog and pets are properly covered in the arrangement.
Do I need a lawyer to get a prenup?
There are free prenup forms available online. Some of these free templates will walk you through where you simply plug in your state and your assets. However, prenups can be a bit tricky and they are often challenged. As such, I would recommend that even if you use a free prenup template, you print it out and take it to an attorney for review.
Here’s one free prenup site you can use as a basic guideline.
NOTE: In order for a prenuptial agreement to be enforced it should be reviewed by independent and separate legal counsel by both parties.
How can I legally get visitation rights to my dog after my divorce, separation, or break-up?
If you have a Cohabitation Agreement and Pet Custody Agreement, or a prenup, then visitation post-relationship shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you don’t have these legal documents in place, you leave the decision-making for all things related to your dog or pet up to a judge.
Sometimes, this will work out as it did for my cousin. Generally speaking, a judge will take different items into consideration and nothing is a guarantee. However, if you can prove who cares for and financially supports your dog (or the percentage) that will certainly help. Although, when children come into play that is also a consideration as to how separating a beloved pet from a child will impact the mental well-being of that child. A few other items a judge may consider when deciding custody of a pet will include:
- Any noted animal abuse by either spouse or partner
- Spouse or partner with physical accommodations for the dog
- Name on the dog ownership certificate
- Spouse’s lifestyle (professional and personal) for caring for the dog (work schedule, health, etc.)
Do I need to get a pet custody, cohabitation, or prenup notarized if the template is free?
Yes, definitely! I recommend you and your partner or spouse get these documents notarized and keep them in a safe, fireproof place you can access if necessary.
How much does it cost to get a document notarized?
Often your bank or financial institution will notarize documents for free. If not, then the cost can be anywhere from $5-20 per document. It will depend on the notary and state. One place that often offers to notarize documents for a fee is the UPS Store. These stores are widely located, but the price may vary.
What do I need to take to have these documents notarized?
Generally, all you will need is some kind of photo ID and payment, if required.
This all seems so negative. Is all this really necessary?
Regardless of how in love you are with your soon-to-be spouse, current spouse, or partner you can’t predict the future. My mom used to always say you marry for life. That’s not the case today, which is often a very good thing. I tend to be a proactive rather than a reactive person. As such, if I can take a few measures that might help down the road (even if I don’t take that fork in the road), sign me up!
What else do I need to know about getting a dog with a partner?
I have this saying that life is a crazy ride and you never know what will happen. With this in mind, think about what you and your partner would like to have happen with your dog if you both were to pass at the same time. This does happen. Henry’s original family passed simultaneously. They did not prepare for this situation. As such, Henry was thrown out with the garbage, saved by a rescue organization, and spent four months in foster care waiting for me to find him.
How can I provide for my dog after I’m gone?
Trusts are generally much preferred over wills. They will not leave a big probate tax bill for your family to have to pay. Additionally, you can designate a caretaker for your dog in a trust, how your trust should be used for your dog, and what should be done with the remaining funds.
While there are free pet trust templates online for use, I would highly recommend consulting an attorney. However, you can probably save a bit of time and money by taking a filled-out pet trust template with you to an attorney for review.
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Summary of the best tricks to getting a dog with a partner
Luckily for my cousin, it worked out okay for her, her ex-husband, and Sam the dog. However, I’ve seen and heard many horror stories of people taking revenge on animals during a divorce or breakup. Legal documents such as a Cohabitation Agreement, Pet Custody Agreement, and Prenup are put in place to help prevent these actions. Even if you need to pay a bit for an attorney’s assistance or notary, it’s well worth the peace of mind that it might provide at some later date. As I’ve said many times, being proactive is definitely a good thing, especially when it comes to our furry friends.