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Determining custody of the family pet in Michigan

Experts are saying that increasingly, spouses who are divorcing are fighting over who will retain custody of the family pet. In many Michigan divorces, a shared pet is thought of as a child so the emotional toll of splitting custody is quite significant.

In Michigan, as in all states, domestic pets are considered to be property. In the eyes of the law, a cat or dog is more similar to a piece of furniture than it is to a child. Many pet owners will tell you, though, that they feel like parents to a pet. This discrepancy has historically caused a problem when couples decide to split up. Who has rights to the pet? Can visitation schedules be set?

Fortunately, because more people have pets than ever before, the perception of ownership is changing. The increase in pet owners means that more and more people have developed emotional ties to a pet which makes custody and visitation universally important. Many judges will agree that a family pet is a part of the family, and want to decide custody arrangements accordingly.

Because of the emotional connection people have with pets, couples will typically fight passionately to protect their rights to the companionship of their pet. Since the law has yet to catch up to the modern regard for pets, there is really no set of rules mandating custody and visitation rights. The only well-defined pattern in the courts is that when children are involved in a divorce, a judge will likely allow the pet to stay with the child.

Coming to an agreement on pet visitation can greatly affect the rest of the divorce proceedings. It is a difficult decision to be made, but once a couple works this out, the discussions about mortgages and debt may go more smoothly. In any case, because determining pet custody is a gray area, it may be helpful for couples to work with a legal professional who can make sure arrangements are fair and executed properly.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Divorce lawyers: Pet custody cases increasing," Sue Manning, March 4, 2012

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