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Pets as Property in an Illinois Divorce

 Posted on November 29, 2013 in Pet Custody

Child custody disputes are often the most emotionally-charged part of a divorce. Unlike property distribution, custody issues involve real human bonds of love and affection. Divorcing parents are naturally willing to go to great lengths to protect their relationship with their children. Fortunately, in most cases a final agreement is reached which provides both parents with some rights-it is not a zero-sum fight.

But what about custody of non-human companions: pets? Many owners have attachments to their animals that are similar to parents of children. When a couple divorces, who gets the dog or cat?

Unfortunately, even though a dispute over pet ownership may be best analogous to child custody, the two issues are treated very differently under the law. Under state law, pets are considered property. Therefore, though not specifically mentioned in state divorce statutes, pets are divided up based on property distribution rules in Illinois.

Pet Ownership - The Options

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recently released a report which showed a steady increase in pet-related disputes. Understanding that pets are considered property to be divided equitably between parties in a divorce, it is critical to consider your options ahead of time. For some, the easiest choice may be to reach an amicable arrangement with your ex-spouse. Agreements that list exactly how a pet will be looked-after, including visitation and shared caregiving can be created together. Where feasible, this option is often the quickest, least costly, and most satisfactory to all involved (including the pet).

However, you may be in a situation where a shared compromise may not be possible. If that is the case, then the matter can be taken to court. Because pet custody issues are not specifically discussed in divorce laws, it is impossible to predict exactly how a judge in a legal case will handle the dispute. In court, a judge may view the pet just as any other piece of property and give ownership to one party. In those situations, the judge will likely weigh details like who bought the pet and who provided more daily care. Additionally, the court may consider each party's ability to provide necessary care for the pet in the future, factoring in work schedules and living arrangements.

Regardless, if a joint-custody arrangement is reached, it is important to note that the court does not have a built-in enforcement system like they do for child custody. In other words, even though you may treat your pets as children, you may not be able to use the family law courts to settle matters as you would for child custody.

If you are in the midst of divorce and pet ownership may be an issue, your best option is to contact an experienced DuPage divorce attorney as soon as feasible. A legal professional can learn about your situation and provide specific advice on likely outcomes in your case.

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