Under Illinois law, pets are technically considered property, but any dog or cat owner knows that pets are really more like family members. Because of the fondness that many people have for their animals, it is unsurprising that pet custody becomes a contentious issue in many divorce cases, but it was actually just recently that Illinois courts determined whether divorced spouses have rights to pet visitation the same as they do with children.
Divorce Court Goes to the Dogs
In Re Marriage of Enders was one of the final cases to come out of the First District of the Illinois Court of Appeals in 2015. In the case, the wife filed the initial petition for divorce following 10 years of marriage, during which the couple acquired two dogs. While separated, the wife kept the dogs at her home because the husband was not allowed to keep pets at his apartment. He believed, however, that they would have joint custody of the canines and claimed that his landlord would allow the dogs to visit for short periods of time. After alleging that his ex-wife was denying him any contact with the dogs, he filed a petition for temporary weekend visitation, which was granted by the trial court. The wife appealed.
The Best Interest of the Dog?
Having never dealt with this issue in Illinois before, the court looked to a similar case out of New York that considered whether to implement a “best interest of the dog” standard for custody that would determine custody similar to how child custody is decided. While the court recognized that pets are far more important to people than mere property, it also realized that opening the door to visitation would only mean “endless litigation” about the issue, as many child custody cases do. The court also declined to adopt the husband’s “best interest of the parties” standard for determining pet visitation.
Instead, the court simply looked to the Illinois Animal Control Act, 510 ILCS 5/2.16, and its definition of pet ownership as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian.” Finding that the wife had been the custodian of the dogs since the separation, the court held that she was, in fact, the owner and the husband had no right to visitation.
While this result is, no doubt, a blow to many people hoping to see their pets following a divorce, it does not preclude coming to a pet visitation agreement on your own with a former spouse. It merely means that an Illinois court will not order a party to allow pet visitation.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
Divorce is difficult, and it only becomes harder when it is time to determine who gets custody of pets. An experienced attorney can fight to protect your interests and get your fair share of marital property, including pets. Contact our compassionate DuPage County family law attorneys today for a consultation.