Pets are a big part of the family. In some cases, they are the children we never had. We go out of our way to give them happy lives and we shower them with affection. Whether it be a dog or a cat, a rabbit or a bird, they provide us with love and companionship.
In the event of a divorce, though, we might not immediately know what will happen to our beloved animal companions. It might not occur to us that we might lose them after a split. It is definitely something we should think about, though.
A sad example
These cases can be heartbreaking for everyone involved. A Time magazine expose last year details the saga of a Rhode Island couple who spent several years and tens of thousands of dollars fighting over their two beloved dogs. The judge overseeing their case eventually handed down a quasi-custody agreement that provided the dogs live with one party for five days a week and the other party two days.
What does Illinois law say?
In most states, pets, no matter how big a part of our lives they may be and how well we treat them, are treated as property, and “allotted” accordingly. In those jurisdictions, questions of pet custody are handled akin to dispersing any other personal property, like a table or a couch. We may balk at the thought of the animals we love treated in the same manner as a bedroom set, but it has happened in thousands of families over the years.
Since the passage of a law in 2018, Illinois now deals with the issue a bit differently. Companion animal custody is treated almost like that of children, with the judge having the authority to determine the animal’s “well-being” by considering such issues as:
- Who handles primary care duties for the animal?
- Who purchased the animal?
- Was it purchased before or after the marriage?
- Has either party been accused of neglecting or abusing the animal?
- Does the couple have any children? If so, what is their relationship with the pet?
- Is the animal part of a bonded pair?
- Who is most likely to provide a healthy environment for the pet?
It is possible for the parties to a divorce to come to an agreement on their own regarding pet custody, but in some instances, a court may need to decide what should happen to the animal. Since the disposition of a pet is technically part of the couple’s property division settlement, an attorney can offer guidance about how to best prove your case for pet custody.