So you're getting divorced. That's unfortunate.
If you are like most couples, chances are you'll split cash assets, have joint custody of the kids and divvy up (hopefully without coming to blows) the widescreen TV, furniture and the dishes.
But what about Fluffy? How do you decide who gets the dog (or cat, or pet iguana)?
A lot of divorcing couples cannot agree. Increasingly, the fur is flying in the nation's divorce courts over pet custody. And now one state — Wisconsin — is even considering what is believed to be the country's first law to govern such cases. The proposal even contemplates visitation rights.
“Humans have a relationship with this animal. To think of that to be manipulated in a divorce situation just adds to the angst,” Wisconsin State Sen. Carol Roessler, the legislation’s sponsor, told NBC’s Janet Shamlian for a segment that aired Tuesday on TODAY.
As Shamlian observed, “Forget 'who gets the kids'... the new battle in divorce court is the fight over Fido ... It's not always so civil. Messy pet custody cases are on the rise across the country.”
It’s even being seen in Hollywood, where Anne Heche and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Coley Laffoon, are fighting over custody of the cat (as well as shirts and pants).
As art imitates life, pet custody battles are showing up in films such as “Legally Blonde,” where Jennifer Coolidge (portraying Paulette Bonafonte) is awarded “full canine property ownership.”
“I always laugh at that,” pet lover Karen Wick, who says her dog is like her daughter, tells Shamlian.
And in the 1995 film, “Outbreak,” Rene Russo tells Dustin Hoffman: “Okay, Sam, do you want the dogs or am I gonna take the dogs? Because we're not splitting them up, and we can't share them. You decide!"
But for animal lovers, it’s no joking matter. In the legal profession, it’s spawned a new body of legal decisions – canine case law, if you will.
“There’s clearly a rise in people's concern about how the law treats animals,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, of the U.S. Humane Society.
Americans spend some $40 billion on their pets each year and consider Fido and Fifi to be members of the family. So it’s not a surprise, Shamlian reported, that “they’re a bigger part of the battle when the family falls apart (and) pet disputes can turn into a real dog fight.”