Photo of Jeanne M. Frazee

The Experience To Protect Your Rights

Photo of Jeanne M. Frazee

The Experience To Protect Your Rights

Who keeps the family pet after a Michigan divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 19, 2024 | Divorce |

Many Michigan families have non-human members. Married couples and those with children often add dogs, cats and other companion animals to their households. Pets provide entertainment, affection and incentive to exercise. They can teach children about responsibility and even help those struggling with various medical challenges by providing emotional support or performing services.

People often talk about pets as though they were people and may treat them with the same regard and love that they treat other members of the family. Their pets could very easily become a point of contention during divorce proceedings. What can those divorcing in Michigan expect if they own a pet and intend to divorce?

The courts treat pets as property

No matter how valuable a pet may be to a person, they have minimal value in the eyes of the family court. The law in Michigan treats pets largely the same way that it treats livestock. Animals owned by people are property, not members of their family. Therefore, the courts do not hear custody litigation related to a pet.

Families cannot expect a judge to hear the perspectives of both spouses and then enter a shared custody order for their corgi. Instead, the judge determines what financial value the pet represents and then divides the marital estate accordingly. There is little certainty about who a judge might place an animal with, although certain factors could influence their decision. Custody arrangements for children and career demands are among the factors that could influence who a judge believes would be the right party to retain possession of a pet after a divorce.

Couples can set their own terms

Those who need a more nuanced approach to shared pet ownership after a divorce may need to consider mediation or other ways of pursuing an uncontested divorce. Spouses can include terms in their settlements that they submit to the courts that would not be possible after a judge’s deliberation.  An arrangement for shared pet custody is something that spouses can set for themselves but generally cannot require a judge to create for them.

In many cases, one spouse has to come to terms with the idea that they may lose access to a pet after the divorce. Although it can be difficult, thinking about the long-term needs of the animal and what living situation would offer them the optimal lifestyle can help divorcing Michigan adults be more realistic and compassionate toward their pets as they prepare for divorce.