An issue that arises frequently in a divorce has to do with the parties’ dog. Especially for avid dog lovers and dog owners, thinking of a dog as a piece of “personal property” is a confusing concept to grasp. However, the reality is that under most state’s divorce laws, dealing with the ownership of pets is treated in a similar way to distributing other pieces of personal property.
A recent Disciplinary Decision out of the state of Wisconsin demonstrates how divorce attorneys cannot take matters involving the parties’ pets lightly. A Wisconsin attorney in a divorce matter faced his sixth disciplinary charge for bringing a frivolous lawsuit over the parties’ dog.
The Wisconsin attorney had represented Husband in a divorce matter where the parties owned a dog together. The parties entered into Marriage Settlement Agreement (“MSA”), whereby Wife was awarded all of the parties’ personal property and Husband was divested of any interest in the property in the final MSA. This included, among other things, the parties’ Labrador retriever.
Later, when the parties were officially divorced and the MSA was finalized, Wife had to have the dog euthanized for health reasons. Husband learned of this fact and retained his divorce attorney again to assess if there were any valid claims against Wife for having the parties’ dog put to sleep without consulting Husband first. Although the MSA clearly dealt with personal property and Husband was divested of any right to the personal property after the MSA was finalized, Husband’s attorney still pursued a lawsuit on Husband’s behalf.
Husband’s attorney decided to file the lawsuit against Wife’s mother for strategic reasons instead of against Wife herself. Husband claimed that Wife’s mother was responsible for the euthanization of the dog. The “narrative” that was created for this case was that Wife’s mother was “a vicious, vindictive ex-mother-in-law has the perfectly healthy dog belonging to her ex-son-in-law euthanized.” However, this turned out to not be the truth. It turns out that Wife, and not her Mother, had signed the consent form to have the dog euthanized. The Court decided in this case that the action was frivolous, as Husband had no ownership in the dog at the time it was euthanized, and the underlying lawsuit therefore had no basis in law or fact. The court ordered that Husband and Husband’s attorney pay a sum of money to Wife’s mother for bringing the lawsuit in the first place. A sanction was also ordered against Husband’s attorney by the court.
The moral of this story is when dealing with a divorce, be sure to hire an experienced attorney who knows what rights you are getting and what rights you are giving away when you enter into a settlement agreement. Our attorneys at Lisa Marie Vari & Associates, P.C. are very experienced in the area of family law – call us today!