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Does Your Pet Have To Be Treated As Chattel In Your Divorce?

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2023 | Divorce, Property Division |

It may be disheartening to hear that your beloved pet is simply seen as another piece of property in Michigan subject to asset division in a divorce. If you adopted your pet when you were married, it may be awarded to you or your spouse not unlike the sofa or the minivan.

Because Michigan is an equitable distribution state, the court will consider whether it is fairer to award the family pet to you or your spouse. If you are awarded the family pet, your spouse may receive marital assets of an equal value in return.

While the value of a pet can be difficult to ascertain, the fact is that Michigan does not have “pet custody” laws that treat pets more like children and less like assets in a divorce.

Pet Custody Agreements

While the law might treat your family pet as chattel in your divorce, that does not mean you and your spouse must do so as well. You can agree on your own to a pet custody agreement, as part of a divorce settlement.

A pet custody agreement may mean the pet lives with you some of the time and your spouse the rest of the time, not unlike shared child custody. You can outline who will cover which costs of pet ownership such as veterinarian bills, food and grooming.

Are pet custody agreements perfect? Not always. It keeps you tied to your spouse post-divorce, when you may desire to put distance between you and them, both timewise and geographically. And constant transitions can be stressful for a pet.

Sometimes pet custody agreements are preferable when a pet can adjust to the new living arrangements and both spouses can give the pet the care and attention it needs. This allows both spouses to continue to enjoy the companionship of their pet.

But if having constant contact with your ex-spouse would be damaging to your well-being or if your pet is not handling the back-and-forth of a pet custody arrangement well, it may be better to work out who will keep the family pet post-divorce before bringing the decision before the court.