Who gets the dog when you divorce?

Divorce can be a complex process both financially and emotionally. Couples face a number of heated issues while they disentangle their lives, including property division and child custody. An increasingly common–and contentious–issue is who gets to keep the dog or cat when a couple splits.

People have strong bonds with their pets and have long considered them to be a member of the family, so deciding pet custody can be heartbreaking and complicated. Illinois law recognizes the importance of pets in divorce and has made a change to the law in the last year to reflect this.

Illinois recognizes pets in divorce

With an Illinois law enacted in the beginning of 2018, a court can help with a pet custody decision and consider a number of factors toward the best outcome. Previously, pets were considered to be property similar to the TV or furniture and split between the couple with no special consideration. Now, a judge can consider several factors surrounding pet custody to determine what might be in the best interest of the family and pet.

Factors in the decision

Couples are encouraged to decide pet custody on their own, but if they aren’t able to agree, a judge can make a decision on their behalf. A judge has wide discretion in their decision, but will consider:

  • The age and health of the animal.
  • The bonds a pet might have with its owners.
  • Which of the parties arranged for the care of the animal, such as grooming or veterinarian appointments.
  • Which of the parties may be better suited to care for the pet.
  • Any repercussions a decision might have on other household members.

Similar to child custody, a judge can grant sole custody to one party or joint custody to both where ex-spouses share time with the pet.

Since decisions regarding pet ownership have been known to get complicated, giving the court the discretion to consider the bonds with its owners might eliminate some of the conflict. Knowing the best interest of your pet is part of the decision can give you comfort during an otherwise emotional time.

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