Considerations for Pets in an Illinois Divorce

pets, Illinois divorce attorneyIn millions of homes around the country, dogs and cats are simply part of the family. It never even occurs to many couples that a divorce could impact the relationship they have with their furry friends. There are, of course, pages and pages of laws that deal with how the best interests of children are protected when their parents get divorced, but what about companion animals? It may come as a surprise to many, but, as of now, statutory law is relatively silent regarding household pets and how they should be handled in divorce.

No Mention of Pets

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) contains virtually all of the legislative provisions applicable to an Illinois divorce. Despite the prevalence of household pets around the state, the law does not make a single reference to animals, pets, dogs or cats. This has essentially forced divorce courts to treat companion animals as property. Historically, the responsibility for the care of household pets has been allocated based on when the animal was acquired and which spouse provided for its care during the marriage. While such decisions are not always ideal for pet lovers, there is no basis for a court to determine otherwise.

Pet Visitation

A recent Illinois appeals court ruling clarified the court’s authority—or lack thereof—even further. Late last year, a panel of appellate judges determined that a court cannot even grant visitation with pets to a divorced spouse, as the law makes no such provisions. Instead, a pet visitation agreement can only be developed by the parties to the divorce.

This means that if you and your spouse both want to maintain a relationship with your pets following a divorce, you will need to negotiate your own arrangement; the court will not help you. Once your agreement is in writing and entered as part of the divorce judgment, the court can provide assistance with enforcing its terms.

Negotiating a Reasonable Arrangement

While companion animals are not human, they are still deserving of compassionate consideration in your divorce agreement. You and your spouse must take care to keep the needs of your animals in mind as you create a visitation arrangement. Not every animal will adapt well to going back and forth between homes, for example, so if you want to visit your dog, you may need to do so at your ex’s new residence. Alternatively, a dog or cat may do just fine in both homes, but may be best served by extended stays. You could agree to visitation periods of two weeks or more at a time.

If you require guidance regarding caring for your pet through your divorce, contact your veterinarian. For guidance with your divorce and any related agreements, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. Call [[phone]] for a confidential consultation today.



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