Most families consider their pet as a cherished family member. But pets are still classified and divided as property, like a piece of furniture, in a Michigan divorce. Couples have options to help assure their continued relationship with their pets and their well-being.
Property not family member
Under the law, courts treat the family pet as inanimate property and not as a living being who may have special needs. It is uncertain that a judge will address possession like a child custody matter. Your pet may be treated as part of property that must be evenly or fairly divided.
Recently, judges have begun to consider what is best for the pet when deciding possession or custody. Sometimes, a third party may observe both spouses with the pet to see which has the best relationship. Courts may also consider evidence such as bills for payment of veterinary and other expenses to determine which spouse was the primary caregiver.
Many times, the pet will be awarded to the parent who has primary custody of the children. In joint custody cases, the pet may go to the parent who spent time caring for it.
Sometimes, the pet will accompany the children on parent visitation. Courts may also order a visitation schedule for the pet when there are no children.
Spouses should discuss their family pets when making property division and other decisions. This can also occur during settlement negotiations or mediation. Instead of a judge imposing an order upon them, they may develop a fair and reasonable plan that meets their needs and addresses the pet’s well-being.
A spouse may give up custody in return for an item that is more to them. But the pet should never used as a bargaining chip to extract concessions or to antagonize the other spouse.
A spouse who cannot or does not want to take of the pet should relinquish ownership. Considerations include whether a new apartment, for example, allows pets or is large enough.
Spouses may also agree to a visitation schedule that meets their career and social needs. A spouse can take care of their pet when the other spouse goes on vacation or a business trip.
Visits help ease the unhappiness of separation. If you only have limited visitation rights, your dog will still enjoy being with you. Take advantage of these visits with walks, play or engaging in your old routines.
An attorney can help you negotiate fair and reasonable agreements. They can also defend your rights in settlement negotiations and court proceedings.