Its no surprise that pets can become a big issue in a divorce case. I have often seen pets being treated like children! As a result, some clients can get very attached to their furry friends.
In a recent appellate decision, In re Marriage of Enders and Baker, 2015 IL App (1st) 142435, the Appellate Court ruled that courts have no authority to enter an order requiring that a soon-to-be-ex-spouse have “visitation” rights with their pets. In that case, the parties had been married for more than 10 years and were fighting over their two dogs–Grace and Roxy. The parties had worked out an agreement between themselves in which the dogs would stay with the wife and the husband would visit. At one point, though, wife had stopped allowing husband to visit the dogs. The husband filed a motion with the trial court and the judge granted the husband temporary visitation with the dogs on alternating weekends from 10AM Saturday until 8PM Sunday. After a full hearing, the judge denied all visitation between the dogs and the husband.
The husband appealed the decision and the appellate court affirmed. The court concluded that Illinois law has no provision for pet visitation after a divorce. Looking at the Animal Control Act, the court determined that the party in possession of the animals after the physical separation of the parties was the rightful owner of the pets.
The Court declined to adopt a “best interest of dogs” standard as used in child custody cases. New York uses a “best for all concerned” standard which is a more modern approach to pet custody and visitation. It is clear that pets in our modern society are viewed much more highly than they were in the past. It has been an issue in some of our cases and it is unfortunate that our laws still view pets as mere property. My hope is that newer legislation will allow for a more humane treatment of pets as pets are also bonded to both of their owners in a long-term marriage, and even to the children involved.