As a family law firm of animal lovers, we understand the emotional connection we have to our pets. If you’re facing a divorce, who gets your beloved pet? Is there such a thing as “pet custody”? The experienced attorneys at Masters Law Group are here to help answer all your questions.
Man, woman, straight, gay, young, old, children, no children; Divorce is a stressful situation for everyone. While the topic of child custody is understandably at the forefront of many divorces, pet custody is a topic less understood.
Divorce lawyers in Illinois oftentimes deal with issues surrounding a family’s pet; including dogs, cats and other furry (and feathery) family members.
The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides for custody-like provisions regarding the family pet(s), upon a divorce. Whether you are facing a contested divorce, uncontested divorce, or civil union divorce, our firm’s attorneys are ready to skillfully advocate for your position and provide your voice when you need it most.
Here’s a look at who gets the pets in a divorce, and how Masters Law Group can be of service through this difficult time in your life.
Disposition of Property and Debts
Section 5/503(n) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”) regarding “disposition of property and debts” state:
If the court finds that a companion animal of the parties is a marital asset, it shall allocate the sole or joint ownership of and responsibility for a companion animal of the parties. In issuing an order under this subsection, the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal. As used in this Section, “companion animal” does not include a service animal as defined in Section 2.01c of the Humane Care for Animals Act.
It’s important to note that the court will first consider whether the companion animal is a marital asset or not.
When is a Pet a Marital Asset in Illinois?
A marital asset is considered property if it is acquired after the marriage, unless, the property was acquired by gift, legacy of descent, the property was acquired in exchange for property acquired before the marriage, or the property is excluded by valid agreement of the parties, including a premarital or postnuptial agreement.
If the court happens to find the companion animal not a marital asset, then the person will be awarded his/her non-marital property. If the court finds that the companion animal is a marital asset, the court shall then allocate the sole or joint ownership of and responsibility for the animal. When making provisions for a companion animal, the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal.
Providing for the Pets Well-Being
There has not been a case decided by the Appellate Court since the companion animal section was added to the IMDMA – which went into effect in 2018. If the pet is considered a marital asset, the court will then consider the well-being of the pet when deciding how to allocate ownership.
If one spouse has been responsible for feeding, exercising, grooming, and caring for the pet’s health needs, the court will be much more likely to award ownership to that spouse. If you wish to maintain ownership of your pet after the divorce, start collecting evidence that proves your involvement in the pet’s life, such as:
- Veterinary bills
Another factor courts may take into consideration when making decisions about pets is the allocation of parental responsibility and parenting time. Children often grow very close to family pets. A parent may argue that he or she should keep the pet because he or she is the parent with the majority of the parenting time.
If your divorce case does not go to court, you may be able to resolve disagreements about pets through mediation or the collaborative law process. Some divorcing couples choose to share ownership of the pet similar to the way parents share custody of their children. However, this might not work for everyone, so it’s important to find a solution that works for your situation.
While there are many questions and valid concerns that come with divorce and pet custody, the divorce process itself does not have to be difficult, and you don’t have to go it alone.
If you are planning to get divorced and you have concerns related to property division or other family law issues, contact the experienced attorneys at Masters Law Group.