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Pets and Divorce in Illinois

Posted on in Pet Custody

Lombard divorce and pets attorneyTo animal lovers across the country, pets are an important part of their family. Many go so far as seeing their pet as another child to take care of. This is especially common in marriages without children. Strong feelings toward pets can make some divorce cases even more difficult than they already are, and changing attitudes toward animals and updates to divorce laws have added new factors for couples and courts to consider during divorce.

A Shift in Priorities

Over time, pets have become a staple in American homes, with many homes having two or three dogs or cats running around. The family pet has now become more than just another mouth to feed, but a full-fledged member of the family. This is evident in the sharp rise of money spent on animals each year. The pet industry has seen exponential growth over the last 30 years, increasing from a total of $17 billion in 1994 to an estimated $72 billion in 2018 alone. This increase in spending is more than just a result of higher prices. It is a reflection of the shift in attitude regarding household priorities in America.

More Than Property

In past divorce cases, pets used to be considered marital property. However, it is much more difficult to divide up a living animal in than it is to divide something like a living room set, especially for those who consider themselves “pet parents.” As part of a reflection of changing attitudes, the laws in Illinois have recently changed, and certain factors must be considered when divorcing spouses cannot come to an agreement over the pet’s permanent residence. 


Pet Custody in an Illinois Divorce

Posted on in Pet Custody

pet custody in divorceApproximately 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

Barbara Karant Greyhound Photo

Photo Copyright Barbara Karant of Karant+Associates, Inc., 5330 W. Winnemac Ave., Chicago, IL 60630, 312-733-0891

Illinois families come in all shapes and sizes. There is no single way to build a home filled with love, loyalty, and shared experiences. In fact, some of our most cherished family members walk on four legs, drink from a bowl, and sleep on the floor: our dogs.

Anyone who lives with a dog or grew up with one appreciates how important a role these beloved animals can play in our lives. They are often far more than pets, becoming companions that share in the ups and downs of life-providing loyalty through thick and thin.


Pets as Property in an Illinois Divorce

Posted on 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.


It is common to hear about soon to be ex-spouses fighting over custody of their children, but it is much less common to hear about a couple fighting for legal custody of their shared pets. Pet custody battles, however, do happen and are actually on the rise. According to a story in USA Today, in a survey conducted in 2006, one fourth of the attorneys who responded to the survey believed that pet custody cases had substantially increased in a five year period.

A battle over who has custody over a pet is quite different than a battle over custody of children. The laws in all states view pets as property, and of course, children are not viewed as property under the law. When there are children involved, it is common for judges to award custody over the pet to the parent who has custody over the child. On the other hand, when there are no children involved, the award of custody over the pet becomes more like a property split – as if the pet were a house or a vehicle.

Times are changing though, and some courts are starting to recognize that pets are not simply a piece of property like a sofa, and are considering owners' emotional attachments to the pet in awarding custody. Currently, states do not have statutes that address pet custody battles. It's become a legal gray area; splitting couples are left to determine pet visitation rules on their own, or with the help of a caring and experienced divorce attorney.

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