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Divorce and Companion Animals: What Happens to Pets?

Posted on in DIvision of Property

companion animal, divorce and companion animals, DuPage County family law attorney, pet custody, property divisionAnimal owners may refer to themselves as "pet parents." They may refer to their dogs or cats as their "children." In fact, many Internet users have at least one friend on Facebook or Instagram whose sepia-toned pet photos are shared with the same adoring love as anyone else's baby pictures. Unfortunately, however, matters become complicated when the owners of these beloved animals find themselves dealing with divorce and property division.

Leading animal advocacy groups estimate that Americans currently own between 140 and 175 million companion animals. At least one dog or cat can be found in one of every three U.S. households, and in some areas, the numbers are even higher. It comes as no surprise that a majority of pet owners consider their pets more than just animals; they are a part of the family.

As a matter or daily routine, most pet owners simply love, nurture, and care for their animals. Whether or not their pets are legally recognized as family members is of little significance. But when a married couple considers divorce, the significance may be magnified exponentially.

State law in Illinois requires the explicit consideration of any children of a couple pursuing a divorce. Custody, visitation, and child support arrangements must be agreed upon or enacted by the court. The same is not currently true for pets. While many owners may disagree, the law recognizes pets as property, and as such, ownership is typically negotiated under provisions for the division of property rather than that of custody and visitation. Understandably, many pet owners are surprised, even shocked, to discover that a family member they love and cherish carries no more consideration under law than a microwave or sectional sofa. It can be especially difficult when added to the already stressful challenge of navigating the divorce process.

While the letter of the law has yet to be altered, the legal system's approach to pet custody is starting to show some signs of change. More and more owners are increasingly hesitant to simply part ways with their pets, despite changes in their own living arrangements. An individual may recognize that due to finances or space limitations, his or her residency may not be ideal for the pet. However, he or she does not wish to completely cut the animal out of his or her life when the marriage ends.

Just as every family situation is unique, every divorce case is as well. Children, property, investments, and pets all present their own distinct challenges. That is why it is so important to have a DuPage County family law attorney at your side. If you are considering divorce, call us today, and put our experience to work for you and your family.
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