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DuPage County property division lawyer for pet ownershipFor many people, their dog, cat, or other pet is a beloved member of the family. However, the law treats pets as property. During divorce, spouses may vehemently disagree about who will take ownership of the pet. In years past, pets were treated just like any other asset during a contentious divorce. However, modifications to Illinois laws regarding property division took effect in 2018, and they changed the way pets are dealt with during divorce. If you are considering divorce, and you are worried that you and your spouse will disagree about ownership of your pet, read on to learn about your options.

Factors Considered During “Pet Custody” Decisions

Only marital assets are divided during Illinois divorces. If a spouse acquired a pet before the marriage, it may be considered non-marital property, and it would therefore be assigned to the animal’s original owner. If a pet was acquired by either spouse during the marriage, it is most likely considered a marital asset. Because of the changes to Illinois law, courts now consider the animal’s well-being when deciding whether to award sole or joint ownership of the pet during divorce. The spouse who typically fed, walked, and cared for the pet and took the pet to veterinary appointments is often assigned ownership. If a divorcing couple has children, the spouse with the majority of parental responsibilities may argue that he or she should keep the pet so that the children can spend more time with it.

Mediation May Help You Resolve Property Disputes

Many divorcing couples struggle to reach an agreement about property division, child custody, and other divorce issues. Even though it may be difficult to resolve these disputes, couples will often want to negotiate a settlement rather than fighting costly and time-consuming battles in the courtroom. Mediation is a process during which divorcing spouses work with a qualified mediator to negotiate an agreement on their outstanding divorce issues. The mediator is a neutral third party who helps facilitate cooperative, productive discussions about the unresolved divorce issues so the couple can reach a resolution. With help from your family law attorney and a qualified mediator, you and your spouse may be able to agree on an arrangement for your pet. If an agreement cannot be reached, a judge may make a decision about how ownership of the pet should be handled.  

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Lombard divorce pet ownership lawyerWhen getting a divorce, one of the major issues that must be resolved is how to divide marital assets. Many material possessions can easily be divided, or they may be sold, allowing divorcing spouses to split the proceeds, but some things have the same sentimental value to both parties. Family pets are often among the most hotly disputed “assets.” In fact, since many pets are treated like members of the family, disputes over their ownership can be similar to custody battles over children. When addressing these issues, divorcing couples should understand how the law applies to them.

Recent Changes to Illinois Law

In many states, pets are considered to be a part of marital property, subject to division between divorcing spouses. While this is also true in Illinois, on January 1, 2018, a new law went into effect that may affect pet custody cases. Under this law, a judge should consider a pet’s well-being before awarding ownership of the pet to either spouse. In some cases, this may make disputes over pet ownership similar to disputes over child custody, and couples may ask the judge in their case to make a decision about who should be granted “custody” of the pet.

How Custody is Determined

Even though the term “custody” is not used when referring to ownership of pets, decisions made by a judge in these cases may be somewhat similar to those made in disputes over child custody. A judge will base the decisions about pet ownership on their opinions regarding who can best provide for the animal’s well-being. Either spouse may be able to argue that they were the one who most often took care of the pet in regards to such tasks as grooming, walking, and feeding. They may also claim that they were the one who spent the most time with the pet. Either spouse may provide evidence to back up their claims, such as photos, testimony from friends or family members, or a statement from a veterinarian regarding who brought the pet in for appointments and followed the directions to care for the pet’s needs.

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