Who Gets the Family Pet in a Michigan Divorce?
Americans love their pets! In the United States, pet owners spend on average $111 per month on their animals. When surveyed, 33% of young adult pet owners said taking care of their pets made them more responsible and better prepared for parenthood. Practicing parenting and preparing for adulthood by taking on the responsibility of caring for another is almost a rite of passage for many couples. For many couples, their first foray into parenting is by being a “dog mom or dad.” The bonds created by sharing a pet and the ensuing responsibilities of pet ownership can provide couples with a great way to work together as a team. All of the ways that pets enrich our lives cannot be discounted, so it’s not surprising that when relationships fail, shared pets can become a source of pain, anger, and litigation. It’s important to note that pets are considered property in Michigan, so questions surrounding who gets to keep the beloved family dog or fish can lead to many hours of deliberations.
Pets Ownership & Equitable Division of Assets
If you and your estranged spouse can’t resolve matters of pet ownership in negotiations, then the court will determine who gets the pet post-divorce. Because pets are considered property, no one will be granted custody of your pet. Who ends up with your pet will be treated much in the same way you will divide up your other possessions. While you’re negotiating the sofa and dining room table, you may also need to compromise on issues regarding your shared family pet. Because pets are considered the same as any other marital property, questions of who will end up with your pet come down to whether there’s a prenup on file or if there’s evidence of ownership that you can present to the court. The court will use equitable property division laws to rule on any matters related to the pet.
Before the court decides, it may consider several of the following factors or issues:
- Is there a prenuptial agreement? If so, was the pet included in the agreement? Sometimes, couples address the topic in a prenuptial agreement if the pet is expensive, unique, or rare.
- Did one spouse bring the pet into the marriage? If the pet was brought into the marriage, it might not be considered marital property.
- Is the pet valuable? Is the pet an asset or a liability? Sometimes, a pet can be emotionally valuable but a financial liability. If your pet is older or needs regular medical attention, it may be even more difficult to assign ownership if it will complicate your settlement agreement.
Tips for Negotiating Pet Ownership Outside of Court
Ideally, couples will be able to negotiate pet ownership, preventing the court from needing to intervene. If the divorce is uncontested, couples may be better positioned to reach a solution that works for all parties.
Some creative solutions for shared pet custody or ownership transfer include:
- One party takes ownership of the pet and all associated financial costs
- Ex-spouses share ownership of the pet and all associated financial costs
- One party has primary ownership and financial responsibility, but both parties spend time with the pet
- The pet will follow the same schedule as children with a custody order
It’s important to note that if you have two dogs and a cat or any combination of more than one pet, you will need to make arrangements for each pet. Every pet is considered an individual asset or liability.
Talk to The Law Offices of Elaine Stypula for Divorce Concerns
As our society, the needs of individuals and families change, laws change. Some states have already changed their laws regarding how pet ownership is considered during a divorce. At the Law Offices of Elaine Stypula, we understand how important your pet is to you and your family. While Michigan law views your pet as property, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. Call us at (248) 565-3800, so we can start working on your case today.