Pet Ownership and Divorce

When you have a pet, they are a member of the family.  Often our cats, dogs, and other animal companions share so much of our lives that it can be hard to imagine not spending time with them each day.   Depending on the situation, when a divorcing couple has a cherished pet, the discussion over who will get to keep it can become just as contentious as child custody. 

Wisconsin Law

While owners may adore their pets and have strong feelings about keeping them, during divorce, the law has another perspective. Wisconsin law views pets as just another possession to be divided between the couple.  In Wisconsin most property acquired during the marriage belongs to each person equally, but deciding who  gets a family pet can be complicated.  Unlike a car or other asset which the couple could sell and divide the proceeds from, an animal is a living creature to which both people are emotionally attached.  

Deciding Ownership

Although Wisconsin law does not directly comment on pet ownership in divorce, the courts are free to consider each side’s position.  The court may hear information such as who cared for the animal the most during the marriage and if there are children who are bonded to the pet.  The parties may also provide evidence of taking the animal for veterinary care and their respective abilities to meet its needs.  Further, if one person already owned the pet before the marriage, this could be an argument for them being allowed to keep it.   


As with most issues in divorce, it is usually in everyone’s best interest to resolve significant disputes outside of the courtroom.   When it comes deciding who will keep a pet, the owners are free to develop agreements which may include terms such as visitation, sharing veterinary bills, and the animal residing or traveling back and forth with the couple’s children.  When owners can work together it may be possible to develop creative solutions which honor each person’s connection to their pet.

We understand the importance of making decisions during divorce which concern pet relationships.  At First Look Family Law, Attorney Karyn Youso has extensive experience helping clients consider their options.   Contact us and let’s schedule an appointment to take a “first look” at your situation and figure out your next steps.

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