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Working out shared pet parenting in divorce

On Behalf of | Dec 25, 2023 | Family Law

Divorce affects everyone in the family – including the four-legged family members. Pets count on their people to be there, while we often rely on them for companionship and emotional support. 

When divorcing couples have children and pets, the pets often follow the children as they transition between homes. For couples who don’t have human children, the thought of losing even some time with a beloved animal – especially when they’re going through the emotional challenges that accompany divorce — can be unimaginable.

Working out a “joint care plan”

As with just about every part of divorce, it’s best when couples can negotiate a way to share time and responsibility for their pets. You can create your own joint care plan and include it as part of your final divorce settlement. 

In this agreement, you can detail how time, expenses and decision-making will be shared. This can prevent conflicts later and give your animal(s) some sense of stability.

What if a judge has to weigh in?

Spouses have been known to battle over who gets the pet almost as viciously as some fight over child custody. If you and your spouse can’t agree on who gets to keep your pet or how you’ll share them, Illinois law can help.

Fortunately (at least for the pets), Illinois is one of a growing number of states where pets aren’t viewed as property to be divided in a divorce like an art collection or retirement accounts. If a judge has to decide what happens to a pet, they’ll look at several things. For example:

  • Did the pet belong to one person before the marriage?
  • Who has been the pet’s main caregiver?
  • Does one spouse have more time to devote to the animal’s care than the other?
  • Does a spouse who’s gotten a new home have sufficient room and outside space to keep a pet?
  • If the pet is very young, elderly or has special needs, is it better for them to stay in one home and, if so, whose?
  • If there are children, should the pet stay with them in whichever home they’re in?

By not treating animals strictly as property, Illinois law lets judges consider what kind of living arrangement is in the best interests of the animal. Whether you and your spouse are working out your own agreement or making your individual cases to a judge, it’s always best when you have experienced legal guidance.