Divorce Breeding More Pet Custody Disputes

dogAnyone who has ever owned a pet knows that four-legged friends are like family. Like children, pets are often caught in the middle when their owners file for divorce.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, there has been a notable increase in pet custody disputes since 2001. There are about 218 million pets in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. households own pets. There are an estimated 74 million cats, which is roughly the same number of minor children in the U.S.

While some owners may say their pets are like children, the law does not see them that way. They are not treated like children in a court of law, but rather like property, generally. With children, the best interest of the children is paramount when it comes to determining custody and parenting time.  With property, the court can award the pet to one party or the other. It wouldn’t be any different from awarding a piece of furniture. The furniture wouldn’t travel back and forth between houses for visitation. Likewise, the monetary value of the pet wouldn’t be anything other than the current value of the pet if it were to be sold.

When there are children involved, the court will likely order the pet goes where the children primarily reside. If the children live 50/50 with each parent, the court may be more inclined to order that the pets travel with the children. In Illinois, the decision would lie in the discretion with the judge since there is not any law specifically addressing pet custody.

Since there is no clear rule of law on pet custody, it is it appropriate for the parties to try to reach an agreement without involving the court. Pets can be the subject of pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements as well. If the parties can reach an agreement, they are more likely to arrive at a resolution that allows each party some access to the pet.


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