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Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

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joliet divorce lawyerIf you are a pet owner who is getting divorced, you probably love your pet just as you would a human family member. Understandably, you may be worried about who will keep the pet after your divorce. As with other property division concerns, you and your spouse have the option of reaching your own agreement about the ownership of pets. However, if you cannot reach a decision, the court may step in and make a decision for you. A skilled divorce lawyer can help you understand your rights regarding pet ownership in a divorce. 

When a Pet Could Be Considered Marital or Nonmarital Property

In Illinois courts, pets are treated differently than homes and other property in a divorce. A law established in 2018 requires pets to be treated similarly to children during divorce. The court can award sole or joint custody based on the best interests of the animal. 

The first step in determining who gets a pet in a divorce is figuring out if the animal is marital or nonmarital property. If you or your spouse owned the pet before you got married, it is probably considered non-marital property. Therefore, the judge would generally award custody to the spouse who owned the animal before the marriage. However, there may be exceptions to this rule. If the pet was acquired during your marriage, it is most likely considered marital property.

If the judge finds that the pet is a marital asset, the next step is to allocate ownership of and responsibility of the animal.

Factors the Court Uses to Determine the Best Interests of a Pet

When a pet is marital property, the court may look at several factors before deciding who to award “pet custody” to, such as:

  • Which spouse took the most responsibility taking care of the pet during the marriage

  • The financial stability of each spouse

  • Which spouse can provide a better living environment for the pet

  • Which spouse will be able to devote the most time to the pet

  • Whether any spouse has abused or neglected the pet

In certain cases, a judge may decide to grant joint custody of a pet. For example, if both spouses have been responsible and nurturing pet owners and the animal is resilient enough to handle splitting time between two homes, joint custody may benefit the animal. However, if the pet requires a more stable routine, the judge may award custody to one spouse.

Contact a Joliet, IL Divorce Lawyer

Pet custody can make a divorce more complicated. If you want to fight for custody of your pet, a Will County divorce attorney can help. Call the Law Offices of Tedone & Morton, P.C. at 815-666-1285 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.


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