IT IS a highly emotional issue which has been a major point of contention between many a separating couple.
But now, almost one in ten people say they have taken out pre-nuptial agreements to decide what will happen to their pets if their relationship breaks down.
A report from Co-operative Legal Services found that more than 7 per cent of couples have an agreement in place to deal with custody of their favourite animals in case of a separation.
The trend comes as celebrity pet owners Kate Moss and Jamie Hince are currently embroiled in a battle over the custody of their dog Archie after the model and musician decided to go their separate ways following four years of marriage.
The study from the Co-op found that one in three pet-owning couples worry that custody of their animal would become one of the most difficult issues if they break up.
Almost a third of couples say they would consider putting an agreement in place in the event that their relationship breaks down, with 18 to 24-year-olds most likely to put an agreement in place, with almost two-fifths saying they would do so, in comparison to only a tenth of adults aged 55 and over.
Tracey Maloney, head of private family at The Co-operative Legal Services, said: “It’s encouraging that a tenth of couples have made decisions about the custody of their pets in the event that they separate.
“Pets are increasingly being seen as part of the family and when relationships break down, it’s only at that point that couples begin to think about who will gain custody of their pet.
“A pre-nup agreement can help couples make these important decisions in advance, so that the worst does happen, both parties are clear on who will gain custody of their pet.”
Although almost two-fifths of couples surveyed jointly own their pet with their partner, almost half of women compared to a quarter of men say that if the relationship was to break down, they would keep the animal.
Two-fifths of UK adults admit that they have no idea what would happen to their furry companion if they split from their partner.
The problem has reared its head for a range of celebrity couples, many of whom have been forced to take legal advice in a bid to come to an agreement over access to their pets. When golfer Rory McIlroy ended his six-year relationship with childhood sweetheart Holly Sweeney in 2011, the pair agreed a special custody arrangement for their dogs Theo, a labradoodle, and Gus, a cocker spaniel.
Rory kept the dogs, but allowed Holly visitation rights.
Meanwhile, Cheryl Cole formally won custody of dogs Buster and Coco after her 2010 divorce from footballer Ashley Cole.
They reportedly agreed to split their fortune equally, but Cheryl insisted that she keep the two chihuahuas full time.