For many couples, pets become a part of their family. In fact, couples who do not have kids often treat their pets more like children, caring for them and their best interests as if they were the couple’s own offspring. As a result of this growing trend, the legal system has recently needed to adapt, and when it comes to divorce, pet custody has become a much more complicated issue.
Trends in Pet Ownership
It is true: pets are becoming more and more a part of our families. Your cat might rub its head against you out of warm affection, or your dog might try to comfort you with a lick on the face when you are upset. It is easy to see why pets are viewed as sentient beings like children as opposed to property. Statistics show that this trend is likely to continue:
On average, more than half of the households in the U.S. have pets.
The majority of pet owners today are millennials, many of whom are childless and, in a sense, use pets as a proxy for children, caring for them in much the same way.
The American Veterinary Medical Association conducted a survey that says 80% of pet owners view their pets as members of their family.
The Latest Laws Concerning Pets
For years, pets have been viewed as property by the legal system. This means that during the divorce process, when the judge, the lawyers, and the spouses would consider who should get the pets, they would make such a determination in much the same way that they would decide on who gets a car or a couch. However, due to the recent trends in pet ownership, new legislation has passed that moves the legal system more toward viewing pets as what they are: living, breathing beings who many argue deserve many of the same rights as people. In particular, the following legal decisions have been made recently:
Outlawing Animal Cruelty—By 2014, all 50 states had passed legislation making it illegal to be cruel to animals. In November of 2019, a bipartisan bill was signed into law that made animal cruelty a federal crime, a major step forward in moving the legal definition of animals away from mere property.
Pet Protection Orders—In at least 34 states, if you suspect abuse toward a pet, you can request that a judge include that pet in protection orders related to domestic violence. This does not just protect the pet against harm; it also proves that pets are no longer viewed as property in the legal system.
Pet Custody—In three states, including Illinois, laws have been passed that enable pets to be viewed more like children in divorce cases. In Illinois, the well-being and best interests of the pet should be given thorough consideration when determining who will own the pet, similar to how a child’s well-being and best interests are considered during child custody hearings. In fact, in all three states where these laws have passed—Alaska, Illinois, and California—judges have the right to assign either sole ownership or joint ownership of pets to divorcing spouses. Many other states are considering adopting such laws as well.
Contact a DuPage County Pet Custody Lawyer
If you are considering a divorce, and you are wondering what will happen with your pet, contact a Wheaton divorce attorney at 630-871-1002 for a free consultation. Andrew Cores Family Law Group will guide you through the process and help you ensure that the well-being and best interests of your pets are taken into consideration every step of the way.