Who gets the family pet in a Wisconsin divorce?

It’s not uncommon for couples to claim that they are staying married for their children. Could the same sentiment extend to the family pet? Wisconsin couples who are contemplating divorce may wonder what will happen to their beloved family pet in the event of a divorce. Will there be a custody and placement order for the family pet?

The short answer is no. Wisconsin is a marital property state, which means that all marital property in a divorce is to be divided equally. Under Wisconsin law, pets are considered to be personal property—much like furniture, vehicles, or clothes. Therefore, the Court in a divorce would be tasked with dividing the pets along with the remainder of the marital assets and awarding them to one party or the other.

One exception to Wisconsin’s presumption for equal division of marital property is in a situation where one party received the property as a gift or inheritance. So, if the pet was gifted to one spouse or inherited from a family member, the presumption would be that the pet should be awarded to that spouse.

Some may argue that a pet should be treated more like a child—many people do consider pets to be their fur babies after all. Though a Wisconsin Court is very unlikely to order a custody and placement arrangement for your family pet, it does not mean that a Court would disallow such an arrangement if you and your spouse are able to agree upon the arrangements. For example, parties could agree to share custody (i.e., decision-making) for the pet for major topics such as breeding, major surgery, or euthanasia. Parties could also agree to share placement of the pet (e.g., each party has the pet for one week at a time and then rotate). If the parties reach an agreement on these issues, the Court is likely to adopt the agreement as an order of the Court. However, absent such an agreement, the Court is more likely to treat the family pet as property and award it to one spouse or the other.

Getting divorced can be a very difficult experience for all involved—including the family pets. Petit & Dommershausen’s experienced family law attorneys are here to help guide you through the process.