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Pets caught in the middle of divorce disputes

There is no denying that people love their pets. You are no exception. Whether your pet has come to you relatively recently or has been in your life for decades, nothing else can fill the special place in your heart for the animal that has brought you so much joy. Now, in the midst of divorce, you may be shocked to learn that Wisconsin law considers your pet to be property and may include the animal, along with the dishes and furniture, in the division of your marital assets.

How courts see your pet

Recently, some divorcing couples across the country have requested custody hearings for their pets because they feel the practice of including pets in property division can lack compassion. In fact, some pet lovers feel that, too often, one spouse will use the other spouse's emotional attachment to a pet as leverage or as a way to seek retribution.

Some states are taking the lead by passing laws allowing judges to take into consideration the best interests of the animal during divorce hearings and property distribution. Some of the suggested guidelines for judges include the following:

  • Do you have more affection for the pet than your spouse?
  • Which of you were more active in the caring for the pet's health?
  • Are your circumstances more suited than your spouse's for having a pet?

Mostly, what many animal advocates want is for courts to see pets like yours as living beings instead of furniture or property. While few courts have allowed actual custody hearings concerning pets, more judges are open to weighing the well-being of an animal when making decisions about which spouse should take ownership.

Compassionate representation

While the outcome of a divorce generally focuses on the financial well-being of the spouses, you also want an advocate who understands emotional factors in the balance. If your spouse is willing to consider those factors when it comes to determining who takes the pet, you are fortunate. On the other hand, if your spouse is fighting you for a cherished dog, cat or other animal, you want an attorney who will protect your rights in this area as much as in the division of other assets.

Although Wisconsin law does not yet provide for custody decisions regarding pets, with the help of an attorney, you may be able to negotiate for an agreeable arrangement. Having a lawyer to advocate for your rights and best interests is vital at this emotional and difficult time.

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