Approximately 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce and by one account, approximately 62 percent of American households have at least one pet. Further statistics show that Americans truly love their pets, as they spend about $50 billion each year on their pets’ health and well-being. Combined, these statistics illustrate how determining pet custody/ownership can be weighty issue for a large number of divorcing U.S. couples.
One recent news article concurs that pet custody battles (considered property division matters in Illinois) following divorce have become a commonplace issue in family law. With Americans spending more on pets than ever before and couples delaying parenthood and marriage for economic reasons, pets have attained a higher than ever significance in couples’ lives.
Illinois Pet Custody Law
The law in most states still views pets as personal property. They are divided and apportioned like stock shares and dinnerware. In Illinois, pets are divided according to equitable distribution principles. Under these principles, family law judges attempt to apportion property in a divorce in a manner that is fair based upon a totality of factors, such as each party’s role in acquiring and maintaining marital property and each party’s contributions to the marital household.
As such, it is not always a guarantee that a party that brings a pet into the marriage will leave the marriage with custody of that pet. Once a party brings a pet into the marriage and both spouses contribute to the pet’s well-being, the line becomes blurry as to whether that pet becomes shared, marital property. The pet ownership rules following divorce are even less settled when couples buy the pet together.
Nonetheless, some judges may be becoming more sympathetic to perils of pet owners. Accordingly a sympathetic judge may hear evidence on each partner’s bond with the pet, and the comparative amounts of time and money spent on a pet when deciding with whom the pet will live.
Most judges follow more traditional principles and require the party who most wants to keep the pet to pay in other assets for the privilege. For example, the spouse who gains ownership/custody of the pet may have to part with an asset of comparable value to the costs of the pet’s upkeep and purchase price.
Steps to Protect Your Pet Ownership
Though a few limited laws exist that govern pet custody in collateral circumstances, pet owners are still likely to be at the mercy of the courts. Here are a few actions pet owners can take to protect ownership of their pet in event of a divorce:
- Marital agreement: One way pet owners can protect their interests in the pet during divorce is to amend or draft a pre- or postnuptial agreement or separate contract that outlines what will happen to the pet in the event of divorce. A well-crafted agreement can save headaches or even grief in the future.
- Establish a record of pet ownership: Most pet owners have some external records concerning the ownership of their pet. These records include purchase or adoption receipt, microchip registration, dog license registration, veterinary records, and in some cases, grooming records or pedigree registries. Some judges may consider who is listed as owner in these records. Judges may also consider records of who primarily paid for the pet’s care and upkeep and which party took the pet to most appointments throughout the marriage.
- Produce evidence: If a judge will allow it during divorce proceedings, show evidence that you can provide a desirable living environment for the pet. Such evidence may include a lease or ownership of a dog friendly residence. It may also include photographs of your new home showing ample space for the pet, or even vet and dog walking references to show that you thought ahead to the continued upkeep of the pet.
Contact an Illinois Family Law Attorney for Help
At Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C., we understand the significance of pets in our clients’ lives. Our practice is built around listening carefully to the needs of our clients and working to achieve favorable results in divorce proceedings. Call our DuPage County divorce attorneys at (877) 889-4515 to learn how we can make your divorce process as painless and effective as possible.