This year, California became the third state in the country to adopt a law that considers the best interest of pets caught up in the tug-of-war of a divorce as opposed to treating them like any other property to be divided. They join Illinois, which passed a similar law in 2018 (750 ILCS 5/502) that gives a judge more leeway when it comes to deciding who gets the dog or cat when parties cannot agree in a divorce.
A judge may consider factors such as who initially purchased the pet, such as a dog, and whether the dog went on to become an integral part of the family. The judge may then consider who took the responsibility for caring for the dog on a day to day basis. Did one spouse take the dog for walks and provide regular feeding and daily care? Who took the dog for regular checkups at the veterinarian or regular grooming appointments?
In contrast to the days when pets were regarded as any other marital property such as a car or house to divide in a divorce, a spouse who has cared for the pet may be the one who is awarded pet custody. If, as is often the case, both parties are invested in the family pet, joint pet custody may be an option for those who wish to share ownership.
In many households, pets are considered members of the family. Consequently, other states across the U.S. will likely pass similar laws addressing pet custody in a divorce with a pet’s well being in mind. With roughly 70 percent of households owning a pet in the U.S., allowing the courts the authority to give more consideration to the animals or to the interest of the individual when deciding what happens to the pet in a divorce is a welcome sign for animal lovers and their furry friends alike. The laws will also lessen the likelihood of a disgruntled spouse using a pet as a pawn and prevent acts of retaliation in domestic violence cases.
Illinois statute states that a pet is considered a marital asset if it was acquired during the marriage, although exceptions exist such as when an animal is a gift to one spouse, is inherited, or is addressed in a prepnuptial agreement. Barring those exceptions, a judge will presumably reach a decision he or she deems in the best interests of all involved including the family pet.
What happened after the case solidified my beliefs of just how sincere Ron and his team were about my case. The night of the hearing I received a call from Ron asking if my dog was home and how he was doing. The case was over, we won. But he went out of way to check in on us and that made me feel like I was not just another client, he really cared.
At the end of the day I was completely satisfied with Ron’s representation. When he took the case he got to know all the facts and he represented the absolute best anyone could. He used the facts and his experience to make sure we got the outcome we desired. ~ Brett
Many welcome the growing trend of keeping animals’ interests in mind when marriages end in divorce. In the eyes of their loving owners, dogs, cats and other animals are people too with feelings and needs that require attention. Wouldn’t it be nice if pets get to live where they are the happiest? If you have concerns about who gets the dog or cat in an Illinois divorce, contact the lake county Illinois family law offices of Ronald L. Bell & Associates PC for assistance today at 847-495-6000.