By Wendy Alton
Last week, the New Zealand Herald posted a story titled “Divorced couple in court over dog custody.” While the story may have been written tongue-in-cheek, it most certainly was not a joke. We often think that custody battles involve just children. However, pets are often cherished members of the family, and how divorcing couples share time with their pets is often of primary focus and concern. It is not uncommon to hear the following: “My dog is my baby.”
Despite the close loving relationship we have with our family pets, they are considered personal property in Michigan—which means that a divorcing couple must come to an agreement on who is going to take the pets. Sometimes this is easily resolved, because in some marriages only one spouse is emotionally attached to the pet and wants it. But what happens when both people want Fido? How can you resolve that sort of situation?
In one of my former cases, we wrote a specific agreement into the Divorce Judgment regarding the dog. One person took custody of the dog, but the other person had the option of monthly visits with the dog, and was entitled to advance notice if the dog fell ill or needed to be put to sleep. The upside of this: the person who didn’t take the dog had a chance to continue visits with the dog. The downside of this: in a divorce with no children, the couple continued to be connected after divorce. (yes, for most people this is a downside).
In another of my former cases, the dog was actually awarded to the minor children, and the dog travelled back and forth with the children to mom and dad’s house. The expenses for the dog and any vet bills were to be shared equally between the mom and dad. There didn’t appear to be any downside to this type of arrangement.
While those are merely two examples of how to handle a divorce dispute about a family pet, there are dozens of potential solutions, and particularly a solution that caters to your particular situation.
Lesson to be learned? If you are going through a divorce and have a pet, be sure to tell your attorney. If your attorney doesn’t ask and you don’t let them know in advance, this can potentially hinder a successful settlement because it will be a surprise issue in the end.
If you are interested in learning more about divorce, or have a question about divorce, please call Wendy Alton at 248-380-9976 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.