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dupage county divorce lawyerWe love our pets in this country. It is estimated that there are more than 76 million companion pets living in American households. For most of us, our pets are not simply “pets,” but they are part of our family. But what happens when a couple who has one or more furry family members decide to divorce? As a DuPage County divorce attorney can explain, custody of pets can get just as contentious as custody of children in an Illinois divorce.

Illinois Pet Custody Laws

Until a few years ago, Illinois family law judges viewed pets in a divorce as property and treated the decision as to where the pet would live the same way they decided who would get the fine china or ATV. In 2018, lawmakers addressed this issue and changed the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) about how judges could address this issue.

The first change in the law was now referring to pets as “companion animals.” Keep in mind, however, companion animals are entirely separate from service animals. If a spouse has a service animal, as defined in the Illinois Human Care for Animals Act, that service animal is not included in the divorce settlement.

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Oak Brook marital property lawyerIf you are an animal lover, you may have serious concerns about what will happen to your pet after your divorce. For some divorcing couples, deciding who gets to keep the family pet is easy. If one spouse was the main caretaker of the pet or he or she had the pet prior to the relationship, it makes sense that he or she would retain ownership of the pet(s). However, when both spouses want to keep the pet or one spouse insists on keeping the pet simply to hurt the other spouse, the situation becomes much more complicated.

Options When Divorcing Spouses Disagree About Pets

Pets are considered property according to the law and are therefore subject to equitable distribution. If a spouse obtained a pet before getting married, it may be considered a non-marital asset and assigned to the spouse who originally owned the pet. However, if the pet is considered a marital asset, each spouse may have an equal claim to the animal. Your dog, cat, horse, or other pet is probably like a member of the family to you. Because of this, discussions about who should keep the pet can become quite heated. Collaborative law and mediation are two methods of alternative dispute resolution during which spouses work to negotiate issues such as property division. If you are struggling to reach an agreement about pets and other issues, you may want to consider pursuing one of these dispute resolution options.

“Pet Custody” in an Illinois Divorce

If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement about pet ownership or other property division concerns, the court will step in and make a decision for you. Fortunately, Illinois law does make a distinction between pets and non-living pieces of property. According to the current law, a judge may consider the health and well-being of a pet when deciding which spouse the pet should live with. A spouse who has been actively involved in pet caretaking responsibilities, such as feeding the pet and taking the pet to veterinary appointments, can make the argument that he or she is better equipped to care for the pet than a spouse who did not take on these responsibilities. Divorcing spouses may also choose to share ownership of the pet. If both you and your spouse want to keep the pet, you may be able to negotiate an arrangement where each of you has the pet on certain days or certain weeks.  

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DuPage County asset division lawyerOne of the most challenging aspects of a divorce can often be determining how property will be divided. Illinois law dictates that only marital, or shared, property should be divided during a divorce and that non-marital, or separate, property is not. However, it can be hard to determine what property is considered marital and what property is considered separate.

Untangling two individuals’ finances and assets during divorce can be a complicated endeavor – especially if the couple is not able or willing to negotiate. In some situations, property decisions are left up to the judge assigned to the case. The judge will then use a method of property division called “equitable distribution” in order to assign property to each spouse.

What Is Considered Non-Marital Property?

Separate property is not subject to equitable division and will be assigned to the spouse who owns it during divorce. Separate property generally includes:

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