The Law Offices of Van A. Schwab
Skokie and Libertyville

How divorce affects pets

Illinois couples that are thinking about a divorce may be able to come to an agreement on issues such as alimony or who will get to stay in the marital house. However, there is often a conflict over who gets to keep the family pets, as many pet owners to think of their dogs and cats as family members on a similar level to children.

Divorce courts traditionally view household pets as personal property and thus subject to property division considerations that will depend on whether the divorce is being adjudicated in a community property state or in one that follows equitable division laws. Accordingly, judges would follow the same guidelines as are used to allocate ownership of antiques and artwork.

In recent years, however, it has become increasingly common for pet owners to include pet custody issues in their divorce proceedings and asking a judge to make a decision when they cannot agree on who should keep the animal. As a result, many judges have become more likely to apply a modified standard to make the decision. A judge now might look at factors such as whether either spouse ever treated the animal poorly, who has more space, who can afford the costs of pet care and who might have more time to care for the pet.

In many cases, judges are considering what would be in the best long term interests of the pet, the same principle that is used in determining child custody and parental visitation issues. Couples who are otherwise able to agree on most issues and do not want to have this matter determined by a court may sometimes find that divorce mediation can provide a satisfactory resolution.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?", Nancy Kay, November 10, 2013

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