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The Question of Pets in Divorce

Posted on in Division of Assets

Naperville divorce attorneysMillions of American households have at least one dog or cat as a family pet. Of course, many have more than one, as well as a wide variety of other animals. In a significant percentage of homes, dogs and cats are treated as more than just animals—they are truly part of the family. But what happens in a divorce? Can an agreement be made between the spouses so that each can continue a relationship with their furry friends?

Mutual Agreement

According to the law in Illinois, divorcing spouses can agree to just about anything in a divorce, as long as the agreement is reasonable and relatively fair to both parties. Most such agreements can even be included in the divorce judgment by stipulation of both parties. To that extent, pets can receive consideration as more than property in a divorce.

Depending on your specific circumstances and the temperament of your pets, you may need to be especially creative when it comes to developing a workable arrangement. Many animals are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment and would not do well in a situation where they went back and forth between two homes. Cats, for example, require fairly long adaptation periods to new surroundings, as do certain breeds of dogs. Others, however, would be fine to split time with you and your ex-spouse, though most experts recommend longer stretches—several weeks at a time as opposed to several days—to make the animals as comfortable as possible. Check with your veterinarian for his or her advice before you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse make any binding agreements.

When Agreement Is Not Possible

If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement regarding your pets, the court will step in and do so, but not in the way you might be expecting. There are no statutory provisions in Illinois that deal with animals in a divorce, so the courts must rely on case law precedents. On this particular issue, there have been few cases that address the matter directly, but a recent Illinois appellate court ruling has set the tone for future cases. In a decision at the end of 2015, the appeals court refused to order pet visitation in a divorce case and also refused to consider “the best interests of pets” as a separate divorce consideration. It acknowledged that pets were more than household property, but held that the law does not afford companion animals the same protections or considerations as children.

Seek Legal Guidance

Divorce is always difficult, but it can be especially challenging for pet owners in many regards. To learn more about the applicable laws in Illinois, contact an experienced DuPage County divorce attorney. Call 630-352-2240 for a free consultation at any of the three locations of Pesce Law Group, P.C. today.

Sources:

http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2015/1stDistrict/1142435.pdf

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs5.asp?ActID=2086&ChapterID=59

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