Illinois considers inherited or gifted assets acquired by an individual during a marriage as separate property. All other assets obtained during a marriage, however, belong to both spouses unless an agreement states otherwise.

As noted by Forbes magazine, a prenuptial agreement typically describes how a couple divides assets after a death or divorce. According to Illinois laws, a postnuptial agreement, which a couple creates after a marriage, determines who owns an asset even if purchased with marital funds. A postnup may also cover the issue of pet ownership.

Why a pet requires an agreement

Without a postnup, most of the property acquired during a marriage belongs to both spouses. A divorce requires dividing the pets because the law typically views them as property.

In a survey of matrimonial lawyers reported by Kiplinger magazine, 88% of the respondents stated dogs caused ownership battles in divorce court. Respondents noted that “other” pets, such as snakes, caused 6% of the battles while cats made up 5%.

When to consider a postnuptial agreement for a pet

A postnuptial agreement can specify an adopted or purchased animal belongs to one individual only. If one spouse takes custody of the children, for example, it could devastate the kids to learn that their beloved dog will no longer live with them. An agreement, however, may state that the pet belongs to the custodial parent.

Pedigreed animals, show dogs and exotic pets may require special maintenance and attention. If one spouse provided financing to support a pet with unique needs, a postnuptial agreement may avoid a contest in divorce court. A judge might otherwise decide to award the animal to the individual who could afford to take care of its needs.