By Gerri Elder
Child custody battles during divorce are quite common and can become bizarre and ugly at times. That's one reason why couples who are planning to divorce are often encouraged to attend mediation to try to work out a custody arrangement and limit the need for a long and nasty court battle. However, child custody is typically the issue.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, state Rep. Michael Sak fully believes that the best interests of all parties caught in the middle needs to be addressed when custody is decided. Sak has introduced a bill in Michigan that dictates how custody arrangements are to be decided when pets are involved in a divorce. The lawmaker believes that the custody of all dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and other pets is an issue that needs to be addressed in family court during divorce cases.
Sak is concerned about household pets being regarded as property rather than family members with specific needs. Currently, pets are generally regarded as property as they are purchased and owned, just like any other property. The pet custody bill proposed by Sak would require a person who is filing for divorce to list their pets, including their species and when they were purchased. According to the bill, if the couple headed for divorce court has already worked out a custody agreement regarding their pets, they would also submit that agreement when they file for divorce.
In the absence of an agreement, the judge would decide who gets custody of the pets. There is also a provision in the bill, which Sak says may be stricken, that would allow the judge to order that the pets be turned over to the Humane Society or another animal shelter.
While some judges and attorneys don't see the need for Sak's bill, he is not the first to propose such legislation. In 2007, Wisconsin Representative Sherry Albers proposed a pet custody law. Alber's pet custody bill proposed that judges would not be allowed to grant joint custody of pets unless the parties agreed to a shared custody arrangement. The bill also would allow couples to work out visitation rights and make decisions about the right to move out of state with the animal. The Wisconsin pet custody bill also specified that a judge could order that the pets be turned over to an animal shelter and the first spouse to get to the animal shelter would be able to claim the pet.
Sak says that he introduced the bill in Michigan after reading about Alber's similar bill in Wisconsin. Critics of the bill say that the issue of pet custody is a rare one, and that the parties can usually work it out without the help of family court. There are concerns about wasting the court's time with pet custody issues and using valuable resources for something that some say, is a non-issue.