From alimony (or spousal support as it is called in Michigan) to child custody, parenting time and property or debt division, divorce or separation is likely to affect every aspect of a person's life. One issue that I have often come across as a family law attorney in Oakland County, Michigan is what to do with the family dog or dogs. Some may pooh-pooh this issue but the dog has a unique place in the family and many people are very attached to their dogs, sometimes as attached as they are to other family members or more. However, under the letter of the law, dogs are considered property or chattel.
Dogs are Considered Property or Chattel Under the Law
This means that to understand how the court might handle the issue of "who gets the dog", it is necessary to get an understanding of property law as it might apply to a dog. Typically, the court will equitably or relatively equally divide the marital property between the parties. Marital property is basically any property that comes into the possession of either spouse during the marriage except for a few limited exceptions. The applicable exceptions could be a gift to only one of the parties, say one spouse buys the other a dog as a present, then that dog belongs to the spouse who received it as that spouses sole and separate property, free and clear from any claim by the other party and without any offset of other marital property. The other applicable exception would be if one spouse owned the dog before the marriage or if one spouse inherited the dog. There is something slightly amusing about the idea of a premarital dog or inherited dog, but that old dog would be awarded as separate property to the appropriate spouse.
If none of those circumstances apply, then the dog would be subject to equitable division with the rest of the property. One hopes the court would not order the parties to literally split the dog, but it could order that the parties share the dog and commit to some sort of alternating schedule or take into consideration the equities of the situation and award the dog to one spouse or the other. In the latter case, the judge would have to determine the replacement value of the dog without considering the emotional value of the dog because the law states that the dog is property, so that just means how much it would cost to replace the dog. Obviously a French Bulldog would fetch a higher value to the other spouse than a rescue mutt, because the law can only consider the actual economic cost to replace the dog.
Typically however, as is true with most issues in a divorce, the issue of the family dog is most often resolved in negotiations between the spouses or attorneys or in mediation, most divorce cases are not tried by a judge at trial but rather are resolved through alternative dispute resolution such as mediation. f you have any questions regarding divorce or family issues and how the law may affect you, please do not hesitate to contact my office to schedule a consultation.