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Courts Are Seeing Pets as More Than Personal Property in Illinois Divorce Cases

 Posted on June 02, 2021 in Property Division

Chicago divorce attorneyIf you have a dog, cat, horse, bird, or another pet, you most likely do not think of your pet as mere property. You may even consider your pet part of the family. However, under Illinois divorce law, pets are classified as property and subject to the same asset division laws as vehicles, bank accounts, and other types of property. Fortunately, the law was updated in 2018 to reflect the fact that pets are more than mere possessions.

What Happens if Divorcing Spouses Disagree About Pet Ownership?

Understandably, many people have strong feelings about their pets. This can make deciding who should keep the pet after a divorce extremely difficult. Spouses are encouraged to negotiate a property division arrangement that works for them. However, property division concerns are not always able to be resolved out of court. If a divorcing couple cannot reach an agreement on pet ownership, the court may need to make a decision on the spouses’ behalf.

Per Illinois law, property that was obtained by either spouse during the marriage is marital property. Property that a spouse owned before the marriage is non-marital property and belongs solely to that spouse in the event of divorce. If you got your pet during the marriage, both spouses have a right to the pet. If a spouse owned the pet before the marriage, it may be considered non-marital property. However, if both spouses cared for the pet and paid for pet supplies and veterinary care, the pet may be considered marital property regardless of who first acquired the pet.

Custody of Pets in a Divorce

“Pet custody” is not handled in exactly the same way as custody of children, however, Illinois law does have a statute that addresses pet ownership in a more nuanced way. If a couple cannot agree about pet ownership, the court may assign sole or joint ownership of the pet. When deciding how to allocate responsibility for the pet, the court must consider the pet’s wellbeing. If one spouse has traditionally been responsible for the pet’s health and wellbeing while the other spouse has been relatively uninvolved in the pet’s life, the court would likely favor the spouse with greater involvement when making a decision.  If both spouses are deemed responsible for the pet, the couple would share custody of the pet similarly to how divorced couples share custody of children. For example, one spouse may take responsibility for the pet during the week while the other spouse assumes responsibility for the pet on the weekends.

Contact a Cook County Divorce Lawyer  

Deciding who should keep the family pets is just one element of the property division process in an Illinois divorce. For help with property and debt distribution, child custody, child support, and other divorce issues, contact Chicago divorce attorney George J. Skuros. Call 312-884-1222 for a free consultation.




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