I read an article over the weekend which indicated that an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey shows a rise in “pet pre-nups” over the past five years. Dogs were the most largely disputed family per at 88%, and cats followed at 5%. The remaining balance of pets subject to be disputed included many other animals, such as giant turtles, horses, pythons and iguanas.
The way that Illinois courts may divide your pets is something that one should know prior to entering into a divorce. Most people who have pets are self-proclaimed animal lovers and consider their pets to be extended members of their family. Unfortunately, in Illinois, the law provides that Illinois is an equitable distribution state, meaning, a Court determines what percentage of the marital estate is equitable for each party to receive (as opposed to a straight 50/50 division, such as those in community property states), and, pets are considered nothing more than “personal property”. That is correct – in Illinois, Fido and Kitty are personal property subject to an equitable division, just like your kitchen table or television set. If it is left up to the Court as to what will happen to the pets, some Judges will say one party keeps the pet and the other party receives monetary reimbursement for the cost of the pet. Some Judges have even said the pet will be sold and the parties will split the proceeds equally. In some situations, pets are allowed to travel back and forth with the parties’ minor children to and from each parent’s home, but that is usually something done by agreement of the parties and not by the order of the Court.
Parties sometimes may agree on a “visitation schedule” or a right of first refusal, but these are not things that Judges will ordinarily put into a court order after a hearing. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey referenced above, many parties are putting what will happen to pets into their pre-nuptial agreements so as to have this issue resolved without court intervention in the event of the divorce.