Family Law

Determining Custody of Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets After a Michigan Divorce

Your love your pet, and you also recognize that your pet also comes with financial costs and daily caretaking responsibilities. Many people worry about what will happen to their beloved dog, cat, or other pet during a divorce. As your trusted legal counselors, the family law attorneys at The Cronin Law Firm will help you resolve all matters related to your divorce, including what happens to your family pets.

Pets Are Considered Property in Michigan

You, your ex-spouse, or both of you may consider your pet to be a family member. However, the court considers your pet to be property. Therefore, Michigan child custody laws do not apply to pets. The court will follow the division of property laws if you and your spouse disagree about what should happen to your pet.

The court will not consider the best interests of the dog, cat, or other pet. Instead, if the court has to decide who gets the pet, the court will include the pet in your equitable distribution of property. Accordingly, the court may consider:

  • Whether you have a prenuptial agreement. Your prenuptial agreement may include what happens to pets acquired during marriage if the marriage ends in divorce.
  • Whether one spouse owned the pet prior to marriage. If one of you owned the pet before you got married, then the pet may not be marital property. Absent an agreement otherwise, the spouse who owned the pet prior to marriage may continue to own the pet after a divorce.

Additionally, the court may include the value of your pet with the rest of your property and divide all of your marital property equitably, considering things such as:

  • How long you were married
  • The age and health of both spouses
  • How much each spouse contributed to the marriage, including financial support, homemaking, and child care responsibilities
  • How much each spouse may earn in the future
  • The financial needs and circumstances of each spouse and minor children
  • Why you are getting divorced
  • Any other circumstances that factor into a fair and equitable distribution of property

Of course, a pet’s value is largely emotional. Financially, a pet may be more of a burden than an asset.

Options to Consider When Deciding Pet Ownership During a Divorce

Sometimes spouses can negotiate pet ownership before the court gets involved. In these cases, you may decide that the pet:

  • Lives with one of you and that person also takes on the financial costs of pet ownership
  • Spends time with each of you and you will share the financial costs of pet ownership
  • Spends time with each of you but only one of you will have financial responsibility for the pet
  • Will move back and forth according to the same schedule as the children
  • Will stay with the ex-spouse if the spouse who usually cares for the pet is away, sick, or unable to properly care for the pet

If you have more than one pet, you may make different arrangements for each pet, depending on each person’s attachment to the pet, living arrangement, and ability to care for the pet. Some of the things you may consider include:

  • Who can financially care for the pet
  • Who spent the most time with the pet during the marriage
  • Who did most of the pet care during the marriage
  • How your arrangement may impact your children’s well-being

Talk to Your Michigan Divorce Lawyer About Your Priorities

In recent years, other states, such as Illinois, have changed their laws and will now consider the pet’s well-being during divorce proceedings. While Michigan law still treats pets as property, our Bloomfield Hills divorce attorneys understand how much your pet means to you and we will do everything that we can to help you protect your pet during a divorce.

Call us, text us, or complete our contact form today to schedule a complimentary consultation with a compassionate and experienced divorce lawyer.

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