Pets Are More than Property to Many Divorcing Couples

Do you own a dog or a cat that you treat like part of the family? Does he or she sit with you while you watch television and sleep on the bed with you at night? More than half of Illinois households own pets, and in many cases, they represent more than just animals. Each one is a member of the family with his or her own individuality and character traits that make him or her unique and special. In divorce, however, concerns regarding pets are often very difficult, as the laws in many states, including Illinois, do not grant any special consideration to companion animals, regardless of the familial relationships to which they may contribute.

According to a 2011 Harris Poll, more than 90 percent of all pet owners consider their pets to be part of the family. A separate study, conducted Kelton Research, found that more than half of all Americans consider themselves to be “pet parents” rather than “pet owners,” an attitude much more prevalent among dog owners than any other animal. This can create serious complications, though, when married “pet parents” get divorced, since Illinois law considers pets to be property, little different than a piece of furniture, that may be subject to the division process.

Pets Custody Arrangements

For many pet owners, negotiating arrangements for their dog or cat may seem as natural and reasonable as doing so for their children. In fact, some families even choose to base their pet agreement on an existing schedule that has been put in place regarding child visitation. Wherever the children will be going on a given day, the pet will follow. Consulting with the animal’s veterinarian in the development of a schedule is important to ensure that it will not cause unnecessary stress and unforeseen health issues to the pet.

This type of arrangement, obviously, depends upon the mutual cooperation of both partners after the divorce. Unless the agreement is formalized in some type of legally recognized manner, such as a postnuptial agreement or other notarized contract, the court is unlikely to be interested in helping to enforce it.

Keeping Your Pet

On the other hand, many owners wish to keep their beloved animal after the divorce, as their furry friend may offer a sense of love and security during a difficult time. To that end, proving your investment in the pet and ability to provide for it can help the court decide to allocate responsibility for the animal to you during the division of property. Offer verification that you were primarily responsible for the care of the dog or cat during the marriage by providing vet records, registration documents, and other proof of your dedication to the animal’s well-being.

Companion animals are among the many considerations that face a couple as they navigate what can be a difficult divorce process. If you thinking about divorce, a qualified legal professional can help you understand your options and organize your approach. Contact an experienced Illinois family law attorney to schedule a free consultation and put our knowledgeable team to work for you.