Many couples preparing to go through a divorce expect to encounter difficulty when dealing with child custody or the division of marital assets, but determining what happens to a family pet after divorce can be just as contentious. Illinois has no laws that specifically address how pets should be handled during the property division phase of a divorce, which typically forces couples to reach an agreement out of court.
In some cases, couples may find it easier to take the issue of pet custody to a mediator. Experts say that mediators often understand their clients' emotional attachments to their pets better than judges and are more patient in ensuring that both parties are satisfied with the outcome of their agreement.
According to one attorney, couples without children are generally more likely to dispute custody of pets, as they often consider the animals to be members of the family. The attorney even recalled a case in which a divorced couple agreed to a visitation schedule for their two dogs.
According to a law school assistant dean, most courts tend to treat animals as property for the purposes of asset division. However, judges are often unwilling to award a pet to one party unless the animal is particularly valuable; for instance, the values of dogs or horses that compete in competitions are generally included among the court's analysis of a divorcing coupe's marital assets.
While a judge could potentially rule on ownership of a more standard pet after receiving written arguments, as is done with disputes over other property, experts say that such an outcome is not likely unless the judge in question is a pet-lover and particularly understanding of each spouse's attachment to their pet.
Source: DL-Online, "After a divorce or break-up, what happens to the pet?" Pamela Knudson, Oct. 23, 2012