DIVORCE AND THE NEW " CUSTODY" CASE - PET CUSTODY

Becoming ever commonplace are cases wherein parties fail to agree on who the beloved family pet should live with after the divorce. Enter the "pet custody" case.

In the State of Michigan, pets are considered mere property, and divided by the court as such. Needless to say, judges really despise making decisions regarding the split of pets.

As someone with a great love for animals, I understand how animals become a significant part of the family, and are certainly much more than just property. And I also understand the emotions that drive divorce clients to engage in a "custody" battle over the family pet.

So, how can a pet custody case be resolved? I have settled cases where parties agreed that the pet moves back and forth with the children. So, when the children spend time with one parent, the pet goes with them.

However, how can we best settle this dispute when there are no children, and the only "child" is the pet. Courts will look at the bond of the parties and the pet, and who is the primary caretaker of the pet when deciding "custody". In these divorce cases, judgments have been drafted to include a schedule similar to those for children, wherein custody is shared by the parties. The downfall of this arrangement is that it requires a high degree of cooperation between the parties.

After determining "custody", it must be decided how the "non-custodial" party will be compensated for the value of the pet. Courts value pets based on the purchase price, and do not compensate for the emotional value parties place on the pet.

As with any decision in a divorce case, don't allow a judge to control the outcome. If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement regarding custody of your pet, consider an alternate dispute resolution such as mediation.

Again, this is a decision that is close to your heart. Do not risk handing over control to a judge.

Laurie Schmitt of Schmitt Law, PLLC, is a West Michigan family law attorney specializing in collaborative divorce as well as separation, divorce, child custody and support, paternity, and other family law litigation. She is licensed by Michigan State Bar and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and has extensive advanced training in divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. Contact Laurie.