Will I lose my pet during divorce?

Although there is an undeniable emotional bond that comes with pet ownership, the law generally does not acknowledge anything of the sort. In Illinois, pets are property and little more. Just as with the marital home, investments and even the furniture, couples must decide what will happen to the family pet during divorce.

A pet may be considered either separate or marital property. However, when trying to show that a pet is separate property, an owner might not be able to rely on the fact that he or she purchased the animal prior to marriage. How the pet was treated and who provided the majority of its care during the marriage could indicate that it is actually marital property. If so, the couple can decide who will maintain ownership. In Illinois, the law allows judges to consider the well-being of companion animals when deciding pet ownership issues.

Reaching a mutual agreement may not be possible when a divorcing couple views their pet as another member of the family, not property. In this situation, they may go before a family law judge who will render a final decision on the matter. It is of course important to determine which party first purchased the animal as well in what context, such as for personal companionship or a gift. Who provided the majority of the pet’s care can be an even greater factor in this decision, though.

Owning a pet is a long term commitment that involves both emotional and financial dedication. Understandably, many people in Illinois are reluctant to let go of something they have invested so much time, attention and love into. Outside of a prenuptial agreement that addresses pet ownership after a divorce — commonly called a pet prenup — individuals cannot guarantee what will happen to their beloved animals. Whether heading toward marriage or going through divorce, those who seek guidance on protecting their pets’ futures may feel more confident moving forward with their decisions.

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