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Pet Custody. Who gets the Family Pet during a Divorce?

Going through a Divorce and you have a Family Pet. As of January 1, 2018, Illinois Courts now recognize “Pet Custody” . The two of you have competing property rights in your dog, cat, reptile or any other “companion animal”. You can also litigate or negotiate “parenting time” with your pet and who pays for its upkeep. 

According to 750 ILCS 5/503(n) of the new “Pet Custody” Law in Illinois, if the Court finds that a companion animal is a marital asset, the court shall allocate sole or joint ownership and responsibility to a party…and in allocating responsiblity for the animal to one or both of you, it shall consider the animal’s best interests.

What does this mean and how can you prepare for divorce if you know the family pet is going to be an issue?

1. You need to determine whether the animal came to live with you before or during the marriage. If Fido or the Gray Striped Cat was acquired by you before you got married, there is nothing to decide, the animal goes with you.

2. If your cat, dog or reptile was acquired during the marriage, see if you have any ownership papers of the animal and set them aside. Those papers may designate who made the purchase, how much was paid and when. You might be entitled to a credit though that is unlikely but they will at least give you a starting point and a monetary value for the animal as cold as that may sound.

3. Just like in child custody cases, keep a journal of who takes care of the pet on a regular basis. Who walks the dog? Who changes the cat litter? Who plays with the animal? Answers to those questions go to the best interests of the pet.

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Hopefully the Family Pet will not be an issue but even if the two of you agree, it might be a good idea to spell it out in your Marital Settlement Agreement. Consult an attorney to determine the best way to comply with the new law in the simplest most straight forward way possible.

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