Many people develop close emotional attachments to their pets. Forcing these individuals to spend any length of time away from their animal companions is (for them) akin to asking them to remain separated from their spouse or child. But Illinois divorce courts do not treat family pets in the same manner as they treat children, no matter how emotionally attached one or both parties are to the pet. How, then, does an Illinois court decide who gets the family dog (or other pet)?
Pets Are Treated as Property in an Illinois Divorce
Like many other jurisdictions throughout the United States, pets are treated as items of property. This means that during the divorce proceedings the court will determine which party gets to retain custody and control of the pet. Like other items of property divided during the divorce, there are no “visitation rights” when it comes to seeing the family pet after a divorce. In other words, if the court awards the family dog to your ex-spouse, it will not order that you be allowed regular opportunities to visit with the dog.
How Does a Court Determine Who Gets the Family Pet?
In determining who gets control over the family pet, the court will first determine if the pet is “marital property,” that is, if it was acquired during the marriage. If not, then whichever spouse purchased or obtained the animal prior to the marriage will be awarded the pet.
If the couple purchased the animal after they were married, a court will consider a variety of factors in determining who should be awarded the pet:
- Is there a pre- or postnuptial agreement concerning the animal?
- Does one spouse want the animal and the other does not?
- Is one spouse better able to care for the animal than the other? (For example, a dog that needs constant exercise and a yard to run in would not do well living in a small studio apartment.)
- Do the best interests of any children the couple may have require that the animal remain with them?
- Which spouse primarily cared for the animal? In other words, which spouse purchased the items necessary for the animal’s care? Which spouse played with and/or exercised the animal regularly? Which spouse made sure the animal was fed and watered as needed?
Is There Any Way to Guarantee That I Get the Family Pet?
Aside from entering into a valid pre- or postnuptial agreement and agreeing with your spouse that you will get the family pet if a divorce occurs, there is no way to be assured with any measure of certainty that the court will award you the family pet as part of its property division.
The assistance of our team of dedicated DuPage County property division lawyers can help, however. We can attempt to negotiate a fair settlement with the other party that allows you to retain custody and control of your beloved pet. Where this is not possible, we will argue vigorously on your behalf to help the court understand that in its “equitable” division of property, giving you the family pet is only fair. Learn how we can help you by calling us at 630-871-1002 or contacting us online today.