You might not love or want to be in a relationship with your spouse anymore, but you still love your furry, scaly, or feathery friends and want to keep them with you. Companion animals can be an excellent source of emotional support during difficult times. Many pet owners see their animal as a family member, however, courts in Illinois still see pets as property that you own. As such, pets are subject to the equitable division of property in a divorce action. Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to reach an agreement regarding pet custody. Otherwise, the court will make the decision that it feels is fair. While a pet is property, judges do understand that there can be a special bond between a human and a pet. An attorney may be able to help you put forth strong arguments regarding why you need your companion animal.
Reaching an Agreement About Pet Custody
There are a number of strategies divorcing spouses can use by agreement so that no one gets permanently separated from an animal they are bonded to. Some spouses who will be living reasonably close to each other choose to “take turns” with the pet, passing it back and forth on alternating weeks.
Those who also have (human) children may feel that the pet should stay with the children. Children may experience anxiety or sadness when they are separated from a beloved pet. Many divorced spouses choose to exchange custody of the pet when they exchange custody of the children. This strategy can also help provide children with a sense of stability.
When the Court Has to Decide
If you and your spouse cannot agree, then a judge will have to make a decision based on what is fair. First, the court will need to figure out whether the pet is a marital asset. If it is not, such as if one spouse had the pet prior to marriage, then the person who solely owns the pet will keep it. Courts in Illinois award “ownership,” not “custody” of pets.
If the pet is a marital asset, then the judge will also take the animal’s well-being into consideration. Factors like who is better able to care for the animal will come into play. For example, if one of you lives in a small apartment and is gone most of the day while the other has a big fenced-in yard and works from home, it is fairly clear where an energetic husky would be better off.
Your well-being is important too. If you truly need your pet for emotional support – for example, if you have diagnosed depression and your dog helps you by forcing you to get up and go for a walk each day – consider asking your therapist for a letter explaining this. Emotional support animals are likely to be kept with their handler.
Contact a DuPage County Divorce Attorney
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