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How Is Ownership of Family Pets Handled During an Illinois Divorce?

Posted on in Divorce

Arlington Heights division of marital property attorney

According to research by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 68 percent of U.S. households include at least one pet. Pets are often considered members of the family. Owning a dog, cat, or another animal has social and emotional benefits for adults and children alike. Pets are technically considered property, but under Illinois law, they are treated differently than a house, car, or other physical assets during a divorce. Therefore, it is important for pet owners who are divorcing to understand their rights regarding who gets to keep the family pet. 

Marital Property and Equitable Distribution

Under Illinois divorce law, marital property is divided based on what is fair. This is called “equitable division.” Instead of a 50/50 split of assets, property and assets are split dependent on factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse's contributions to the marriage, and the decisions made regarding the custody of children. Every divorce is unique, and an arrangement that may work for one couple may not work for another family. 

Before 2018, pets were handled similarly to other pieces of property. The pet would be given to one party based on what was considered fair and equitable. Now, however, ownership of pets is handled similarly to how the care of children is allocated. A judge can assign sole or shared custody of a pet based on what is best for the animal. These laws under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act refer to pets as companion animals. They do not apply to service animals, who would remain with the person to whom they are assigned. 

When determining the best interests of a child, custody decisions are made based on who is best suited to care for the child. Other factors include the parents' relationship with the child, which scenario would cause the least disruption, and the desires of the child if they are old enough. Some of these same factors may be considered when determining "custody" of pets. A dog or cat obviously cannot communicate their wishes, but decisions about ownership may be made based on each spouse's relationship with the family pet. Allowing the pet to continue living in the same home may cause it the least amount of disruption, or ownership may be awarded to the spouse who cared for it the most, such as by feeding, grooming, or playing with the pet or taking it on walks. 

Custody of an animal, however, does not need to be one-sided. If it would be in a pet's best interests to maintain a relationship with both divorcing spouses, then the court may grant shared time. This may not work for every pet and every divorce, but the option to allow both spouses to maintain a relationship with the family pet after a divorce is still available.

Contact a Rolling Meadows Divorce Lawyer

A divorce can be difficult in many ways. Whether your divorce involves pets, high net worth assets, or children, it may be overwhelming to think about dividing up your life. For help with the life changes the end of a marriage will bring, contact an experienced Palatine property division attorney to protect your rights during a divorce. Call our office today at 847-995-9999 to schedule your free consultation.







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