Can You Get “Custody” of Your Pets During an Oakland County Divorce?

Close up of dog's face
Pets are family, so figuring out who gets to keep them when a couple parts ways is very hard!

Most pet owners love their animals fiercely, referring to them as family members and sometimes even ‘fur babies.’ Many of us here at The Kronzek Firm are pet owners as well, and we completely understand! It possible that one some days, you might find a pet or two in our Farmington Hills office. But while that inclusion works wonderfully for an intact family, it isn’t that easy when a couple heads for divorce court. That leaves many spouses asking, who gets the pets when a marriage ends here in Oakland County?

Pets are family, not property, to many people!

For most pet owners, categorizing their dogs and cats as “objects”, or “property” is unthinkable. Like it or not, however, that’s how Michigan law views pets and domestic animals. They are property. While houses, cars, and Aunt Cassie’s antique lamp are all property that can be divided, a pet cannot be physically divided. So how do you solve this dilemma asks our client in Bloomfield Hills or the child of divorcing parents in Royal Oak?

Many Detroit-area couples are now including the custody of their animals in their divorce settlement agreements. While the terms differ from couple to couple, depending on what works in each situation, many people are unwilling to completely relinquish their ‘fur babies.’ In some cases, a divorcing couple will split “custody” of a family pet, or give custody to one person and allow the other visitation rights.

Figuring out who gets the pets can be very hard!

Occasionally, if there are multiple pets and a couple may choose to split them up. Sometimes, one person simply takes the family’s pets and no amount of fighting can change that fact. One of our clients in Birmingham chose to call their family dog the property of their kids. The kids were then allowed to take the dog back and forth during parenting time between Birmingham and Bloomfield Township.

Regardless of how similar these arrangements appear to standardized child custody, it’s not the same thing. In Michigan, the Oakland County family court will always try to divide property in a “fair and equitable” way when parting spouses cannot negotiate their own agreements. Because pets are considered to be property, this fair and equitable split includes the family’s animals. But you should remember that property has a dollar value and not a sentimental or emotional value.

So what can you do to ensure that the animals you love are not lost in the shuffle during your divorce? Well, there are a number of things to consider when choosing how to deal with this particular issue, but here are the three things that we think are most important…

  • Paperwork

Veterinary records, AKC registration documents, purchase contracts, and any other documentation proving ownership of a pet by one spouse is very important. In the case of a disagreement about who gets to keep the animals, a paper trail proving ownership, or at least ‘primary caregiver’ status can go a long way towards establishing who gets to keep Fido and Mr. Paws.

  • Finances

Pets cost money. They need to eat, to have regular veterinary check ups and occasional medical interventions, and also require occasional grooming and other forms of care. None of that comes cheaply, and if you are going from two incomes to one, financial constraints should be considered when discussing who gets to keep and care for the family pets.

  • Emotional Impact

Pets do not understand divorce. They only know that the people they love, and have lived with for almost their entire lives, are no longer together. This can be very distressing for animals. They have been known to grieve, experience depression, and suffer changes in their normal routines and behaviors while adjusting to the change. So be kind and understanding to your pet. Give them time to adjust, and don’t make them suffer by keeping them apart from someone they love, simply because you are angry or need a bargaining tool in the divorce.

Determining what to do with your family pets during a divorce can be difficult, but as experienced family law attorneys, we can help. We understand what the law requires when it comes to pets, but also how much people can suffer when their beloved pets are no longer part of their everyday family. If you are considering a divorce, and are unsure about how to address the issue of your pets, kids or property division, come in and talk to us at our conveniently located office in Farmington Hills.

Most of our cases end with a negotiated settlement and no court trials. We’ve done this hundreds, maybe thousands of times over the decades. We would be happy to help you figure it out. You can reach our family law team in our Oakland County office at (248) 479-6200. We can arrange after hours and weekend consultations when necessary. We also do crisis interventions 24/7.