When you hear about a custody battle, you might assume it is over children. Yet even childless couples can find themselves in expensive custody battles — over who gets the pets.
Many people consider their animals as part of the family. They are heartbroken at the thought of having to separate from them due to divorce. Most states treat pets as property, and judges have little ability to afford animals special treatment when dividing assets.
Illinois has changed its divorce laws to give pets special treatment and help courts decide what to do with the animals when their owners split. Service animals are a case apart as, by definition, one person relies on having the animal.
When you got the pet will affect divorce decisions concerning it
When dividing assets, you need to work out which are separate and which are marital. Things one person owned before marriage remain as separate property, which you do not need to divide. So, if you possessed your dog, or snake or cockatoo before you got married, it would typically remain with you after your divorce.
If you bought the pet as a married couple, a court will consider the animal as marital property. If you file a joint petition for a simplified dissolution of your marriage, you must have an agreement in place about what happens to the pet.
If you file through another method or cannot agree, a court must decide whether to award sole custody or joint custody. In doing so, the law says the judge must consider the animal’s well-being. Defining that can present its own challenges. While your cockatoo may repeat a few words, it cannot explain to a judge why it wants to live with you.
There is a lot to think about when considering a divorce. Having help to understand the relevant laws is essential to getting the outcome you and your pets need.