There are many issues that can come up in any divorce case. One issue that is sometimes overlooked, is what to do about the family pets? There can be a very strong emotional bond between the divorcing couple and their dogs or cats. If there are children, some couples try to keep the pets in the same home where the children spend most of the time. In some cases, one person may be moving to a new residence where he or she may not be able to have a pet and this resolves the issue. What happens when each of the divorcing partners wants to keep the pet or pets?
In Michigan, pets, and all animals are treated as chattel or property, so unlike child custody, visitation or support, the pet's best interests will not be taken into account. Technically, the pets could be divided along with the other property the parties must divide in the divorce or separation. This means there could be a monetary negotiation, where one party offers cash or more of other property in order to keep the pet. In this scenario, the pet is valued only at the replacement value of the animal, so in order to keep the pet, one party would have to pay the other what it would cost to buy a new pet of the same breed and quality as the current one. This of course does not take into account the strong emotional bonds that one can form with their cat(s) or dog(s), and one party may offer more money than actual replacement value to insure that he or she keeps the family pet. In some cases, one party may achieve a significant advantage by agreeing to allow the other party to keep that pet.
Finally, in some cases, people will treat the pets, typically dogs in this scenario, as one would children when dealing with divorce or separation. The couple will work-out a schedule where the dog may be with each person on an alternating weekly schedule, alternating weekends or some other schedule. In these cases, the couple will often work out how to share costs for veterinarian bills and other expenses and pet-related costs after the divorce or separation. Finally, it is relatively common for a "first right of refusal" type clause whereby one party will give the other party notice of the right to take care of the dog when the first party will be out of town or away before scheduling a date at the kennel.
If you or someone you know is facing the prospect of divorce or separation, Cameron C. Goulding has handled all aspects of divorce, right down to such details as what to do with the pets. Please contact us to schedule a consultation through the website, or call Cathy at 248-608-4123 to schedule a consultation.