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How Is Ownership of Pets Handled in an Illinois Divorce?

 Posted on March 21, 2019 in Divorce

Mt. Prospect divorce pet custody attorneyEvery spouse has possessions they value more than others, and if divorce happens, these seemingly small differences will often take on a new significance when negotiating or litigating a property settlement. With most possessions, a level of detachment remains, even if a spouse does have an affinity for it in divorce. The same cannot be said for pets in most households, and many owners view pets as members of the family. Fortunately, Illinois is one of just a few states that has a law addressing the issue of pets in a divorce.

One woman wanted to prevent another occurrence of a sad situation she experienced at the end of her first marriage when her husband used her attachment to the family dog to get her to make concessions during divorce. When she decided to marry for a second time, she included the issue of pets in a prenuptial agreement so there would no question or fight about it if the marriage ended. Resolving this issue is a large concern for many divorcing couples, so it is important to understand how the law applies to these situations.

Illinois Pet Statute

Most animals that live in a household are there for companionship, and recognizing this distinction, the Illinois statute regarding pets and divorce only applies to pets that are considered companion animals and not those classified as service animals. Further, the animal must be a marital asset, meaning it belongs to both spouses. Assuming these prerequisites are satisfied, a court is empowered to award the pet solely to one spouse, or jointly to both, and is directed to take the well-being of the animal into consideration when making this decision. Thus, the analysis should include some consideration of where the pet would better adjust and thrive under the new circumstances.

Additional Considerations

This statute is quite brief and lacks a lot of detail. This brevity could prove to present some challenges when couples look to the law to guide a court on the ownership of a pet. First, the pet must be a marital asset, a classification that is not always easy to make, and this issue could certainly become confusing, depending upon when and how a pet was acquired. In addition, the law does not include a discussion of what happens in the event an ex-spouse dies when responsibility for a pet is shared.

Another consideration is exactly how the court would assess the pet’s well-being, because unlike parental responsibilities, no list of factors is included to guide this analysis. Nor is there an acknowledgment that both financial and physical care will be needed to fully provide for the animal’s needs. Consequently, could there be a situation where one spouse is ordered to pay the other support for the pet’s benefit? Such an outcome is unlikely, but a provision related to the division of costs could conceivably apply, especially related to extraordinary expenses.

Finally, how would future disputes over the pet’s care be resolved? Again, no real mechanisms to negotiate continual disputes exist, as it does for child-related issues, so talking to a family law attorney about this issue is an important part of developing your divorce case.

Consult a Schaumburg Divorce Lawyer

Your pet is a member of the family, and losing it in divorce is likely unthinkable for you. If you have questions about dividing responsibility for pets during your divorce, talk to skilled Rolling Meadows family law attorney Nicholas W. Richardson for guidance. The newness of this law adds a tricky dimension that is best left to an experienced attorney to address. Contact our law firm at 847.873.6741 for a free initial consultation.


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