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What happens to the family pet in a divorce?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2022 | High-Asset Divorce |

Prior to 2018, Illinois only recognized pets as marital or non-marital property in the event of divorce.

Now, when both parties in a divorce cannot reach an agreement on pet custody, the court may rule on it for them, and pets receive custody agreements much like children.

Determining pet custody

Divorce requires a division of everything owned by the couple, which starts with labeling all assets as either marital or non-marital. Because people own pets, they fall under one of these categories. Pets obtained by one spouse before the marriage are non-marital assets and remain in the custody of that spouse. Pets obtained during the marriage are marital assets and require a custody agreement.

Considering the pet’s well-being

Before determining pet custody, the judge considers the well-being of the pet by asking pertinent questions:

  • Which spouse purchased the pet’s necessities, such as food?
  • Which spouse lives in a more pet-friendly environment?
  • Which spouse is more available to spend time with the pet?
  • Which spouse spent more time playing with the pet?
  • Which spouse acted as the main caregiver for the pet?
  • Which spouse took the dog to the veterinarian most often?

A judge can grant sole or joint custody of a pet, and a joint custody agreement often looks much like a child custody agreement. It may stipulate specific timeframes for each owner to have visitation and set a plan of action for financial expenses related to pet ownership.

Pet custody agreements are subject to change as pet owners’ lives change. Although, divorced couples typically handle this without further interference from the court.