How Michigan Courts Handle Pets in Divorces

If you are getting divorced in Michigan and you share a cat or a dog-or more than one pet-with your spouse, you are probably wondering how the court will make a decision about who gets the pet. In contentious divorces, the question of pets from the marriage often becomes a particularly bitter issue. Imagine a scenario like this: you and your spouse have been married for years. At the beginning of your marriage, you adopted a dog together, and that dog has become an important part of your family. You love the dog as if it were your own child, and your spouse feels the same way. You have been paying for doggy daycare on a weekly basis while you go to work, and you have been rearranging vacations for years to ensure that your dog can accompany you.

Now, your spouse is telling you that she or he should have ownership of the dog. What is the court likely to do? A recent article in the Tri-County Times addresses this issue, emphasizing that under Michigan law, pets typically are treated as property when there is a pet "custody" battle. What else should Michigan residents know about property division and pets in a divorce case?

Majority of Michigan Residents Own a Pet Together

As the article explains, the question of pet "custody" might seem like an unlikely issue in a divorce, but more than 60 percent of married couples in the state currently own a pet together. In the event of divorce, if both parties want to continue spending time with the pet, they may be in for a shock: "the law regards pets as personal property." As such, when it comes time for the division of marital property under Michigan law, the theory of "equitable distribution" that applies to marital assets and debts also applies to pets from the marriage.

For many couples, it comes as a surprise to learn that, "according to Michigan family courts, 'pet custody' means nothing." As the article suggests, "under the law, arranging a custody plan for a pet would be the same as arranging a custody plan for a TV." What does this mean for the pet's future home when a married couple is in the process of getting divorced? In short, the pet typically does to one of the parties as part of the property settlement. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that the majority of pet "custody" battles involve family dogs (about 88 percent), followed by cats (only about 5 percent).

Possible Exceptions to the Rule

Are there any exceptions? While Michigan law does not formally recognize such a thing as "pet custody" despite the fact that other nearby state laws are beginning to do so, there are some exceptions in Michigan divorces. In some situations, for example, mistreatment of the pet by one of the parties may play a role in where the pet ultimately ends up.

In addition, some Michigan courts are beginning to recognize that pets do play an important role in families and may consider other options than simply treating the pet like another asset. However, there may be another option. One clear way to get around this issue is to enter into a property settlement. Instead of waiting for the court to distribute marital property, your Michigan divorce attorney can help you to negotiate a property settlement with your spouse. This way, you may be able to clarify who will have ownership (even if you think of it more like "custody") of the dog or cat you shared with your spouse during the marriage. A court will most likely adopt any agreement you reach with your spouse, including a shared arrangement.

A Michigan Divorce Lawyer Can Assist You

Do you have concerns about pet custody in your divorce? You should speak with a Michigan divorce attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Michael A. Robbins today.