When Divorce Leads to a Dog Fight: Increase in Pet Custody Cases

Posted on in Divorce

When a couple divorces, puppy love may give way to a fierce dog fight. As more people treat their pets like family members instead of property, the number of pet custody cases has been growing.

A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in 2006 found that 25 percent of respondents had seen a substantial rise in pet custody cases since 2001. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, one attorney recently reported his pet custody cases had grown as much as another 15 percent since 2007.

Illinois, and all other states, consider pets to be property which is subject to the division of property in a divorce. Many pet owners, however, treat their dogs, cats, birds and other animals as members of the family. This can lead to emotional disagreements as to who will keep the pets when spouses part ways.

The law does not recognize visitation with pets, but a knowledgeable family law attorney can help couples discuss options and develop their own agreement regarding who will own the pet, visiting arrangements and how the pet expenses will be divided. For those considering sharing custody of a pet, a book about pet co-parenting has also recently been released titled, "What About Wally?"

The law is also beginning to treat pets differently than other forms of property. Illinois is now one of a handful of states that allows domestic violence restraining orders to protect pets. This change was made because abusers may use pets in order to threaten their human victims.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, Pet custody cases on the rise, Sue Manning, 2 April 2012.

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