Our pets are our family. In families where children are not involved, this becomes even truer in many cases. So what happens to these not-so-traditional family members during the divorce?
The law defines pets as property in most states however, for the majority of Americans’, we consider our pets much more than a piece of property to be sold or divided. Pet owners now spend as much on their pets as they do on two-legged members of the family, investing in insurance, beds, clothes and toys, all to make our furry family members feel more comfortable and protected. Books are being written regarding matters relating to pets and their “rights” and in some legal battles, judges have even started talking about “the best interest” of the pet, which as property, is something which would never have been discussed before. Despite the changing outlook on where our pets exist in the hierarchy of the family however, the law still considers them property in Michigan, to be distributed during the divorce, much like the car or the stereo.
Divorce is difficult enough without factoring in custody of our children and now, who gets the dog(s) or cat(s), as well. In Michigan, the judge will determine what happens to pets the same way they would determine what happens to the tv, they are after all, “just property”. Some people take this into account at the onset of their relationship, detailing in a pre or post-nuptial agreement, who gets custody of the pets in the event of a divorce. Others deal with what happens to their pets while determining division of property. While legislation has been introduced in the past to help avoid these types of legal battles, none have been made law and so, the battles wage on.
It comes down to this, whether you agree that pets are property or prefer to think of them as family, it is what the law says that matters when it comes to divorce and your pets in Michigan. For this reason, as pet parents, it is important to think about this in advance. What is best for your pets and the rest of your family? Consider this when making decisions. You can also be prepared by ensuring that any paperwork is in order from the beginning including whose name the pet is in if purchased, considering any plans for the future in case of a divorce and discussing the details and most importantly, considering the well-being of the animal.
Divorce is difficult even without pets. Do your best to work it out in a way that is good for everyone involved. If you have questions about divorce or other issues, Harris Law is an experienced family law attorney in Northern Michigan who can help