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What Happens to Pets in a Michigan Divorce?

 Posted on May 09, 2018 in Divorce

Farmington Hills divorce lawyer, Michigan divorce, pets and divorce, Michigan divorce law, pet custodyHow deep is the relationship between people and their pets? Just consider some of the terms you hear these days: Pet parents, dog mom, even grand-dog. Additionally, most of us have seen at least one car window with a sticker saying “Fur Babies on Board” or “My dog is smarter than your honor student.” 

National statistics back up the bumper stickers. A 2016 survey reported that 68 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet (a figure which has been trending upward for over two decades), and 84 percent of pet owners now think of themselves as pet parents rather than pet owners. 

Therefore, not surprisingly, “Who gets the pets?” has become an increasingly contentious issue in divorces, as emotions over pets can run high, even in an otherwise uncontested divorce. Devoted pet parents may be shocked to learn that virtually all state divorce laws still treat pets as mere property to be divided, like a TV and the lawn mower. However, this is beginning to change.

Michigan Law Still Says Pets are Property in Divorce

Michigan divorce law does not provide for “custody” or “support" for pets. Pets are treated as property for which ownership must be assigned to just one party in a divorce. If the spouses cannot agree on who should get to keep a beloved dog or cat, a judge may have to decide, thus following the Michigan law that requires an equitable division of property. Michigan pet owners approaching divorce should look into the collaborative divorce approach as one way to ensure that pets are given due consideration in the process.

Other States Have New Laws Regarding Pets in Divorce

Alaska and Illinois are among the first two states to pass laws specifically addressing the issue of pets in divorce. The Illinois law, which took effect Jan. 1 2018, allows judges to grant sole or joint ownership of a companion animal and directs judges to consider the well-being of the pet in making that decision.

In 2017, a bill was introduced in the Rhode Island legislature which would require judges to “consider the best interest of the animal” in a divorce. The sponsor of the bill, Charlene Lima, said in an interview, “A lot of time I think [the issue of pet custody] is used as retribution. People can get really vicious in divorces.” Michigan State University law professor David Favre theorizes that “custody battles flare when there are fewer or no children in a family and pets have become the focus of a couple’s emotions.”

Factors to Consider When Deciding Who Gets the Pets

When deciding who gets the pets in a divorce, one factor to keep in mind is the cost of ownership. The cost of a cat or dog can easily exceed $2,000 per year, when you count food and supplies, vet visits and immunizations, grooming, and boarding. Other factors to consider are which spouse spends the most time with the pet and how attached any child is to the pet. 

Trusted Family Law Attorneys in Southeast Michigan

If you are thinking about divorce and are concerned about the fate of your pets, do consult a lawyer before making any moves. Working with an experienced and compassionate Farmington Hills divorce lawyer will help to ensure your best interests are protected throughout the process. Call Elkouri Heath, PLC at 248-344-9700 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer at our Novi, Michigan office.







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