Property Division – Pets
Dogs, cats and other furry, feathered and finned friends are important members of the family for most pet owners. More than 300 million pets reside in U.S. households, and pet owners spend more than $60 billion a year caring for them.
In an Illinois divorce, it may come as a surprise that the law regards pets as personal property akin to a TV or a painting. As with other personal property, the “custody” of pets is provided for in Section 503 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. It may be hard to think of your beloved family pet as a piece of property, but for the purposes of Illinois divorce, your pet will be treated in this fashion by the courts.
To ensure the welfare of a beloved pet, it is recommended that parties to a divorce work with experienced divorce attorneys who will assist in protecting the rights of the pet owner, thereby ensuring the welfare of the pet.
Negotiating “Shared Custody” of a Pet
The first step in negotiating the division of property, whether it is a pet or a television, is to determine whether it is marital property or non-marital property. A pet purchased or acquired by a party before the marriage is considered non-marital property and, under Illinois property division laws, will be awarded to the party who brought the pet into the marriage. However, things are a bit more complicated when the pet was acquired after the marriage began because that pet will be considered marital property and be subject to the Illinois property division laws.
Things to consider when negotiating who will be awarded the family pet are a little different than when choosing who will get the television. Pets need time and attention, so in negotiating pet “custody,” consider which spouse may devote more time to the pet’s care, who may provide the most favorable living arrangements, and who has the closest relationship with the pet.
When children are involved, it is important to take into consideration the children’s relationship with the pet. Divorce is difficult for children, too, and they might benefit from spending time with a pet, as well as a parent. Consider creating a “pet custody agreement” that mirrors the parenting time arrangements made for the children. Such an arrangement may be the best for the children, as well as the pet.
Determining Pet Custody in Court
If the parties are unable to reach an amicable agreement regarding the pet, the matter will be resolved by the court as part of the overall property division. Courts typically consider a number of factors in determining which spouse retains ownership of a pet, including:
- Was the animal acquired by the parties before the marriage or after the marriage?
- Which party purchased the animal?
- Who has served as the animal’s primary caregiver?
- Who currently lives with and cares for the pet?
- Who pays for the pet’s food, veterinary care and other expenses?
A party who has a strong financial investment in the pet may demonstrate this connection by showing receipts for adoption fees or the purchase of the pet, payment of veterinary bills, and a log of expenses for pet food, medications and other items.
On the other hand, the spouse who may not have provided financial support for the pet may find it helpful to demonstrate his/her bond with the pet through the use of pictures of the party and the pet, awards won by the duo at events, certificates of pet training completed by the party and the pet, as well as other things demonstrate the emotional connection between the pet and the party.
Protecting Your Pet
Consulting a qualified divorce attorney to protect your interest in your pet’s well-being is recommended. Those with pets turn to the professional DuPage County pet custody attorneys at the Illinois law firm of Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C., at (877) 889-4515. You will speak to an attorney who will listen and give you appropriate legal guidance for the most favorable resolution of your pet’s custody.