Most of our Michigan readers have heard or read about the estimate that nearly 50 percent of all marriages in the U.S. result in a divorce. However, what many may not know is that according to some research estimates, about 62 percent of U.S. household have at least one pet. Thus, many couples who own a pet may wonder about what the fate of their beloved pet may be if they were to divorce and what options they have to avoid legal issues which may arise concerning the pet in a divorce.

Generally, most pet owners have some emotional attachment to their pet, be it a dog or a cat. And, in a contentious divorce, it is likely that one party may use the family pet as a bargaining chip to get a certain result, have an upper hand or more. Michigan residents will find it interesting to learn that despite most families considering their pets as a family member, in the legal system, a pet is personal property. In some cases, such as those who breed and sell purebreds, pets may be considered to be business assets.

Even though most people do not want to think about a prenuptial agreement before entering into a marriage, it may be helpful to draft a prenuptial agreement and agree what will happen to the family pet or pets in the event of dissolution of a marriage. If a prenup is not the way a couple wants to go, a couple can draft a post-nuptial agreement.

In the absence of a pre or post-nuptial agreement, when it comes to who get to keep the pet, a family court may take into consideration factors such as to whom the animal belonged prior to marriage and who typically cares of the animal, such as taking it to the vet and buying the food. Furthermore, when there are children in the marriage who may be attached to the pet, the court may look at the child custody arrangement and similarly have some arrangement for the pet, as well. Finally, based on one’s job, a court may look at which person is most suitable for ownership of the pet. Thus, if one were required to travel a lot for work while the other has a predictable work schedule, the person with a predictable work schedule may be better suited to take care of the pet.

Source: Forbes, “How Are Pets Handled In Divorce,” Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014