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Pet custody during divorce

Pet custody during divorce

Many Illinois residents consider their pets to be cherished family members, but the law takes a different position. While disputes over pets are not as common as disagreements regarding property division or child custody, they can often be just as contentious. The welfare of children is the primary consideration when custody decisions are made, but pets are viewed by the law as simply another piece of marital property.

The emotional bond that develops between a companion animal and its primary caregiver can be strong, and this may sometimes be exploited in a divorce. A spouse with little attachment to the animal could demand custody as a bargaining strategy or simply to inflict emotional stress. The most effective way to avoid this is to clearly establish pet custody in a prenuptial agreement if the pet was owned prior to the marriage or in a postnuptial agreement if the animal was acquired during the marriage.

Courts can also seem dispassionate when it comes to deciding the fate of pets. Disputes over companion animals are often looked at in the same way as an argument over a piece of artwork or furniture. Such disagreements are often settled by one spouse agreeing to pay the other for the asset in question, and this could lead to a bidding war over a pet. However, the law does seem to be evolving in this area, and judges in several states have awarded visitation in cases where a decision had to be made regarding pet custody.

An experienced family law attorney will likely have encountered disagreements over pet custody and can understand how quickly they can escalate. Resolving such issues amicably could save both sides considerable emotional and financial strain.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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