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Legislation seeks compassionate treatment of pets during divorce

To some people, pets are more than animals -- they are family. Michigan pet owners may have been wondering when the courts would change the way they deal with animals in divorce cases. In most states, pets are considered property, and they are divided the same way furniture and garden tools are divided. In numerous instances, pet owners have asked in vain for judges to decide on custody and visitation arrangements for their dogs or cats.

To determine who gets a pet, courts generally look at the registration papers or the name on the vet bills. If one spouse was responsible for taking the animal for its shots and checkups, that spouse would have a better chance of obtaining the pet during property division. In another state, some lawmakers are hoping to bring more humanity to the fate of pets when their owners divorce.

The state has five representatives who are championing a bill to allow a judge to award ownership of a pet to either spouse, not just the one paying the vet bills. This way, a judge may have to observe or hear testimony about which spouse the pet prefers and which one truly cares for the animal. Pet owners in Michigan who are passionate about their animals may rejoice, especially if they feel they have been unfairly separated from a beloved pet because of technicalities during a divorce.

Even for people who do not own pets, divorce often forces a couple to let go of precious things. A parent may find time with a child is severely limited, or a pet owner may be grief-stricken to have a beloved animal awarded to an uninterested spouse. Having a compassionate attorney from the beginning of the divorce process may minimize the disappointments during property division. An experienced attorney will work to make sure a client's interests are safeguarded.

Source: krqe.com, "Bill leaves pet custody up to judge if couple gets divorced", Rebecca Atkins, Feb. 16, 2017

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