It becomes abundantly clear in many divorces that pets are valued family members, and that Michigan law is outdated and does not deal with the relationship that pets have with their owners. Spouses can take steps, however, to maintain their relationship with their pets and address their health and well-being.
Michigan laws and courts consider pets as inanimate property, much like furniture or jewelry, and address it as a property division issue. Judges do not have to consider the spouse’s attachment to their pet when making pet custody rulings.
If the court must rule on pet custody, it will consider whether the spouse had the pet before marriage or who purchased it. Judges may also take into account which spouse paid for veterinary bills, registration fees, food, and other expenses.
Spouses should keep copies of any documents pertaining to the pet’s ownership or registration if this matter is left to the court. Hold on to bills for veterinary care and other costs.
Custody and sharing agreement
Couples, however, can structure their own agreement that meets their needs and recognizes the pet’s best interest. The agreement must be written and specific.
This agreement needs to contain a weekly visitation and custody schedule. It should cover which spouse makes important medical decisions including the ultimate sad and difficult decision of putting the animal down. Spouses should also address responsibility for obtaining and administering routine medications.
Other important issues include payment of veterinary, food, registration, and medication costs. Address whether a spouse can take the pet out of state.
If the spouses cannot reach agreement, they should consider mediation. A spouse who is less interested in continuing their relationship with the pet may consider receiving other marital property in return for surrendering any claims. Other family members may become involved and put pressure on a spouse who is acting unreasonably or out of spite.
Pet’s best interest
Pets suffer emotionally and physically with constant change and strife. Try to reach an agreement that addresses their needs and allows them to continue any relationships with family members.
Never address pet custody out of spite. Do not take advantage of this issue for revenge.
Attorneys can assist spouses with addressing these and other divorce issues. They can help couples protect their rights and seek fair and reasonable agreements.