As an animal lover and pet owner, I understand that pets aren't things, pets are family. It is very common for my clients to tell me “I want custody of my dog” or “I want the cat,” only to find that the other side also wants “custody” of the family pet. Knowing how important pets are to families, it is very difficult for me to tell my clients there is no “pet custody” statute in Illinois. Rather, Pets are simply considered “personal property.”
Because the law considers pets “personal property,” pets are typically simply awarded to one of the parties like any other piece of property, such as the bedroom furniture. If the parties cannot agree on who gets the family pet, the court would decide who gets the family pet. In determining who gets the family pet, the court would likely consider whether one party adopted the pet prior to the marriage, or if both parties adopted the pet together during the marriage. If one party adopted the pet prior to the marriage, the court would likely award the pet to the adopting party as his or her non-marital property. If the parties jointly adopted the pet, the pet is marital property and both parties have an interest in the pet. In determining who gets the pet, the court has the discretion to consider several different factors, such as who cared for the pet during the marriage or who is in a better position to care for the pet. If the court awards the pet to one party, the court might try to determine the monetary value of the pet and have the other party pay 50% of that amount to the party not being awarded the pet. For instance, if the parties have an expensive purebred dog that they purchased together for $4,000.00, the party being awarded the dog may be required to pay $2,000.00 to the other party.
If all of this seems cold and calculated, it's because the law can be cold and calculated sometimes. That is why when it comes to matters like pets, I encourage my clients to try to work the issue out by agreement with their spouses. Simply because the law does not specifically provide for “pet custody” and “pet visitation,” does not mean the parties cannot agree to a pet custody and visitation arrangement. If the parties agree that one party will be awarded the family pet, and the other will have certain visitation, the parties can put that arrangement into an agreed, enforceable court order. Or, if pet visitation is out of the question, I ask the parties to be honest with themselves in deciding which party is in a better position to care for the pet. Sometimes it is better to compromise in order to ensure the family pet is in a loving home with someone who has the time and resources to care for the pet. If you and your spouse have an agreement regarding your pet and would like to memorialize your agreement in an order, feel free to contact our office for your free consultation.