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Pet Custody: Who Keeps the Family Dog in a Divorce?

Deciding who gets to keep a beloved pet can be a very divisive issue in a divorce. As much as people treat pets like family member, Michigan law treats them as property. This means they are subject to the same laws that control division of other marital assets. However, courts have begun to consider noneconomic factors in making decisions on how to award possession of a pet.

It is common for pet owners to talk about winning “custody” of their pet. However, who gets the dog in a divorce is subject to Michigan’s equitable distribution law. This is a rule that seeks to fairly and appropriately divide the parties’ joint assets between them. Certain assets, such as pets, cannot be divided. If you and your soon-to-be former spouse cannot agree on who should get the dog, the court will have to determine the value of the dog and determine who the dog should go to. The other spouse will then receive assets equal to the assigned value of the dog.

How does the court decide which spouse should keep the dog? Courts sometimes consider multiple factors, including these:

  • Whether either party has ever mistreated the family dog
  • If the parties are living apart, who the dog has lived with during that time
  • Whether the dog is a service or emotional support animal for one party
  • Which party’s home offers the best environment for the dog

These are unofficial factors, and not every Michigan court will necessarily consider them. Some courts look solely at the economic value of the dog and its associated costs.

A better way to handle pet custody is through a joint property settlement. If you and your spouse can agree, the court will generally permit you both to decide who gets the family dog and on what terms. You can even consider a shared arrangement, similar to joint custody. A skilled family law attorney can help you craft an agreement that the court likely will adopt as part of equitable distribution.

At Dawson Family Law, PLLC in Sterling Heights, we have decades of experience serving Michigan residents in a full range of family law matters. Contact us online or call 833-671-4445 for a free initial consultation.

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