Every 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....
When the divorce process is put into motion, sudden and abrupt shifts in the structure of the affected household shortly follow. As a parent/spouse moves out of the home, those left behind must figure out how to adjust to this new reality. Children are known to struggle with these drastic changes in living situations, and the focus of divorcing spouses are, understandably, geared towards making the transition as easy as possible.
Child custody, generally, is a big facet of many divorces. However, another member of a household that can be overlooked in the shuffle — one that still feels the impact of the divorce — is the family pet. How central the family pet is to a household varies greatly from family to family, but deciding which spouse will have primary responsibility for the animal's care can be a hotly contested issue.
Americans, in general, place a high degree of importance on their pets that is reflected in the amount of money consumers annually spend on pet-related purchases — $66.75 billion in 2016. Recognizing the new status of pets as full family members in many households, as well as the difficulties of determining which spouse will retain possession in a divorce, the Illinois Legislature passed a Bill that addresses this issue. The Bill is currently awaiting the governor's signature, and would provide clarification and direction to Courts when pet custody is unsettled....
According to Schaumburg, Illinois-based American Veterinary Medical Association, 51.8 percent of Illinois residents are pet owners. For many of these residents, their animal companions are more than pets — they are four-legged family members and are as beloved as children. And like children, deciding who receives custody of the pets in a divorce can become heated.
Obtaining Custody of Pets in Illinois Divorce Illinois Courts consider pets as personal property, no different than bank accounts, vehicles or other household belongings. This means they are just another asset to consider when determining the most equitable way to divide assets. The Court will not conduct a custody hearing, and there will not be “best interests” factors to consider when deciding who should receive the pet. However, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood that the Judge will award you custody of your pet. Retain copies of all receipts. Because pets are personal property, you must be able to prove a greater ownership interest than your spouse in regards to your pet. Documents showing that the pet was registered in your name, receipts from veterinary bills (especially if paid from your separate property) or other evidence showing as you as the pet’s primary caretaker can help prove that the Court should award you the pet. Prove your ability to care for the pet. Even though pets are property, they are different from a car or bank account — they require active care. Being able to show that you are better able to care for the pet than your spouse may help sway the Court’s decision. Other determining factors which may help prove you are in a better position to care for the pet include your spouse having a job that requires frequent travel, his moving into an apartment or rental home that does not allow pets or evidence of allergies. Agree to a custody schedule. Although the Court will not engage in a custody determination the way it will with children, this does not mean it will not consider a custody arrangement if one or both of the parties present one. For couples with children, it may be helpful to keep the pets on the same visitation schedule as the children. Obtain a pre- or post-marital agreement. Though not an option if you are in the middle of a divorce, either a pre- or post-marital agreement will allow you to address the issue of who will receive the pet in the event of divorce. Palatine Divorce Attorney If you are planning on filing for divorce, or if you have just been served with divorce papers from your spouse, contact Palatine divorce attorney Nicholas W. Richardson today for a free consultation. With more than a decade worth of experience handling divorce and other family law matters, Nicholas W. Richardson understands the complex emotions that can arise and knows when to approach each issue in the spirit of compromise — and when to dig in and fight. Call the Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C., today to discuss your case.