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Pets in Divorce

Pets are increasingly becoming a center issue of divorces. Many people look at their pets as a member of their family.  Divorcing couples are no exception.  Who is going to get “custody” of the family pet has become a hotly contested issue in many divorces. 

Unfortunately for divorcing pet owners, the law does not lay out a process for divorcing “pet-parents” to resolve their differences.   The court treats pets as property.  The law in Wisconsin, and most other states, does not allow the court to grant visitation or custody of pets.  This means the court must award the family pet to one party or the other. 

However, parties are free to agree to whatever arrangement they can dream up for their family pet.  These agreements can be informal or written out as part of your divorce settlement.  If the agreement is a part of the final settlement the terms of the agreement may be enforced by the court.   The following are some common arrangements divorcing parties have employed in regards to their pets:

1. Pets with the children.  If there are marital children the pets often follow the same placement schedule as the children.  Often times the children are attached to the family pet.  Having the pet move between homes with the children allows the children comfort, and helps them to adjust to their new living situation.

2. Visitation schedules for the pet.  If there are no children divorcing couples often work out a visitation or placement schedule for the family pet.  This allows both parties to enjoy the continued companionship of the family pet.  If the parties do decide to go this route it is best to write out the specifics of the arrangements to avoid disagreements in the future.     

If a divorcing couple does decide to reach an agreement in which they continue to share the family pet their agreement should also address the financial aspects of sharing a pet.  Determine who is going to pay for veterinarian visits, and other costs associated with the pet. 

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