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Who gets the dog? Divorcing couples battle over the family pet.

As Americans, we love our dogs (and cats, of course). Many married couples opt for a pet rather than having children because they're cheaper and less demanding. Further, many couples see no difference between the affection for their pets and the love parents have for their children.

Indeed, this same determination is seen in pet owners in divorce proceedings, with increasing frequency over the past 10 or 20 years. Cases of treating pets like children in the courts have been increasing and gaining visibility in the media, as well. But what does this mean for you if you are approaching a divorce and have a family pet?

Granting Custody, Rather than Ownership, of Family Pets in Divorce Proceedings

The New York Times recently did an article about pets in divorce proceedings. In recent years, American courts have increasingly treated family pets more like children than like inanimate property. Courts are more frequently allowing estates and trusts to be set up to care for animals, legislation is becoming more common to allow for pet-custody, and the courts are even starting to consider the best interest of the animals in these proceedings just like the best interests of the child standard in most custody cases.

The approach makes sense, too. As living beings, dogs and other animals are more like children than like a lamp or painting.

According to the article, Alaska was the first state to enact legislation for pet-custody cases and in Rhode Island a bill has been introduced to the same effect.

What Does This Mean for You?

If you have a pet that you love, and you are facing divorce, it would be wise to consider how to make an argument to the court for considering the best interest of the animal and granting you custody-possession. While it might be some time before Michigan adopts a custody approach to pets in divorce proceedings, the help of an experienced family law attorney could greatly increase your chances of keeping your best friend after the divorce.

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