Are you planning to file for divorce in Clinton Township, Michigan? Do you and your spouse have a beloved pet? As you might imagine, determining who will obtain custody of the pet could end up being a complicated issue—not to mention a serious point of contention—during your divorce proceedings. According to an article in Forbes Magazine, more than half of all couples who divorce in the United States have at least one shared pet (to be precise, 62 percent of divorcing couples own a pet together). What does this mean for the pet? And how might the other spouse attempt to use your pet as a bargaining tool?
As the article highlights, many Americans consider pets to be members of their families. As such, when a couple decides to divorce, determining where the pet will live and who will get to live with the animal can become questions that quickly make the divorce impossible to resolve outside of the courtroom. Indeed, a report from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) reported that, over the last five years, pet custody cases have been on the rise in courtrooms across the country.
What type of pet are most divorcing spouses arguing over? In 88 percent of the pet custody cases in 2014, the family animal in dispute was a dog. For couples with cats, only 5 percent of those pet custody cases made it to the courtroom. There have been other animals in dispute, too. For instance, AAML lawyers have cited pet custody cases involving horses, iguanas, snakes, parrots, and turtles.
Why have so many more people who are divorcing been engaging in pet custody disputes? In many cases, it may simply be that people have strong emotional ties to their pets. However, that may not be the only reason. According to Maria Cognetti, the president of the AAML, “while pet custody cases are not an everyday occurrence, far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip.” In other words, one spouse might try to use pet custody as a bargaining tool for getting other assets during property division.
It is important to recognize that pet custody does not work like child custody. Instead, pets are considered property of the marriage when it comes time for a divorce. Since Michigan is an equitable distribution state, the court ultimately will determine who will get the pet based on what is equitable, or fair. To determine what might be equitable when it comes to the pet, the judge is likely to consider many different factors, and each case will be handled individually. In other words, there are no cut-and-dry rules for pet custody in Michigan. For instance, the judge might ask who has been the most responsible for the pet’s care, who has paid for the pet’s needs, who is in a position to continue caring financially for the pet, and whether one of the spouses owned the pet before the marriage.
If you have questions about pet custody, a divorce lawyer in Clinton Township can assist you. Contact Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. today to learn more.
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