Pets are part of your family, so people often don’t think about what will happen to them during the pendency or finalizing of a divorce. Will a judge order shared custody or set a visitation schedule as they might with your human children? This is a very common and real issue that divorcing couples face because according to the 2019-2020 “National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, about 85 million American families (or 67%) own some kind of pet. Birds, cats, dogs, fishes, or ferrets — these little creatures are part of the family and each year, American families across the country grow a little bit bigger each year.”
Michigan courts will treat your family pets as “property.” What does this mean for your dog, cat or other animal? It means that the courts will assign the pet to one or the other of the parties, just as the court would assign a car or a coffee maker or a house. When deciding which party to award a pet to, a judge might consider testimony regarding each person’s role in the pet’s upbringing and care, so a party seeking to be fully awarded a pet in a divorce should ensure that they start by gathering evidence regarding the following things to give to their attorney:
- Who purchased the pet and when (was it before or after the marriage?);
- Who took care of the pet day to day;
- Who walked the dog or cleaned the cat’s litter box;
- Who potty trained the pet;
- Who feeds the pet throughout the day;
- Who named the pet;
- Who is the pet registered to;
- If there are children in the marriage, where will they be primarily living? Do they have strong connections to that pet?;
- Does the pet have a chip? If so, whose name is the chip registered with?; and
- Who takes the pet to the veterinarian when it is ill or for its annual checkups?
There are also creative ways you can settle and negotiate with your soon-to-be ex regarding the pet. For example, if there are more than one pet perhaps one party could take one and the other another. Or, if there are children in the marriage the pet could go along and live wherever the children are, even moving between households. So there are ways to work through the logistics of a pet outside of court, which you should speak with an attorney about to understand how those arrangements may be drafted.
Make a plan today with an attorney to put yourself and your pet in the best position possible heading into a divorce – call one of our attorneys to talk it through and to determine what documents and other evidence you should be gathering prior to going to court.