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Are Pets Considered Property in Michigan?

by | Oct 10, 2023 | Family Law |

Your dog may be your best friend, but how does the law see your pets when it comes to a divorce? Not the same way you do.

In a divorce involving human children, there is custody involved, with courts deciding on the best interests of the child. There is legal and physical custody, along with visitation rights.

When it comes to your furry or feathered children, though, you will not get any of these rights. Michigan does not recognize pets as children. Instead, pets are seen as property, even though a survey showed that a whopping 95% of respondents saw their pets as family members.

Michigan’s laws are complicated. The state passed a law criminalizing animal cruelty more than 150 years ago, so the property status of animals poses a challenge. However, because pets are not human, there are no custody rights or legal standards. So, what happens to your pet in a divorce? It pretty much boils down to when the pet was acquired.

The Pet Was Acquired Before Marriage

Your pet that you owned before you were married would be considered separate property, for the most part. However, separate property can become commingled and, therefore, marital property. Pets are no exception. If the pet has become both yours and your spouse’s, then a legal battle may ensue.

The Pet Was a Gift

If the pet was given as a gift from one spouse to another, then the pet belongs to the spouse who received it. The pet becomes their sole and separate property, free and clear from any claim by the other spouse. This is true of inherited pets as well.

Both Spouses Bought or Adopted the Pet Together

If you and your spouse both claim ownership of the pet, then that is where things become tricky. The court could order that the parties share the pet and commit to some sort of alternating schedule. The judge could also award the pet to one spouse or the other, depending on if one spouse has more of an attachment to the pet. For example, who has been the primary caretaker of the pet?

When determining the value of the property (the pet), the judge would have to determine its replacement value. Emotional value does not play a role since the pet is considered to be property only. Some dogs, for example, have higher values than others. A purebred dog would be worth more than a mutt.

Contact Us Today

You may think of your cats, dogs, birds, and other pets as part of your family – like children. However, you will not get custody of your furry or feathered friends in a divorce. It will be like splitting an asset – like it or not.

The Law Offices of Michael A. Robbins can help you understand property division in a divorce and how your pet will be affected. Fill out the online form or call 248-646-7980 to schedule a consultation.