NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Attorneys across the country are reporting a huge jump in pet custody battles, which can be both emotionally and financially draining.

But now, there’s another option: the pet “pre-nup.”

Many people treat their pets as if they are part of the family, but what happens if the family breaks up?

“They will fight to the death for these animals,” animal rights attorney Gina Calogero said.

“They’re often looking for things to fight over and the pet is huge,” attorney Ann-Margaret Carrozza said.

And if you don’t have an agreement known as the “pup-nup,ā€ attorneys tell CBS2 it could cost you a small fortune.

“My client spent over $30,000 fighting for her dog,” Calogero said.

New Jersey resident Christine Gandy knows the battle all too well. She spent $8,000 to get full custody of her Maltese mix, Bella.

“I’ve been saving for a house and that went to all my fees,” Gandy said.

Alethea O’Dell can sympathize. She spent more than $11,000 to convince a judge to let her keep Sweet Pea, her beloved dog.

“Letting go of a house or a retirement fund, I could deal with that, but letting go of my dog, I couldn’t part with her,” she said.

But according to Calogero, with a “pup-nup,” you don’t have to spend your life savings or engage in a bitter battle.

“The advantage of a pup-nup is you’re negotiating it while you’re in a relationship, and you know what’s in the dog’s best interest,” she said.

Think of it as a pre-nuptial agreement, but the “pup nup”– or “pre-pupā€ as they are also called — specifies who gets custody of a pet before you even bring it home.

Gandy says she wishes she’d had one before she and her live-in boyfriend broke up.

Like many people, Gandy thinks of Bella as her child, but that’s not how the legal system views pets.

“The courts have to consider them property,” Calogero said.

As a result, custody of a pet is typically awarded to the person who adopted or paid for the pet initially.

“They don’t go with who’s the dog happiest with; who’s the best pet mommy,” Calogero said.

But as Carrozza says, a pup-nup can lay this all out in advance, along with other considerations like financial responsibilities, even if the couple stays together.

“The pet custody issue can be absolutely devastating for both the couple and for the pet, so it’s very important that a couple deal with this frankly on the front end,” Carrozza said.

Carrozza says these agreements can stipulate everything from veterinary costs to the type of food the pet should be fed.

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