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Pets as property in divorce cases

Illinois residents who end their marriages have to struggle with many difficult issues. From personal belongings to residences and financial assets to time with one’s children, the losses can be innumerable. Families with pets can add one more potential loss to their lists. Determining who will keep a pet and who will lose that valuable relationship is not easy.

It appears that the issue of pet custody during a divorce is becoming more commonplace. The Chicago Tribune explains that a company based in Palatine, Illinois, works to help couples make these decisions. Since 2005, the company has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of people needing this help—as much as 60 percent, in fact. This is consistent with the experience of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers who notes that discussions of pet custody in divorce cases have grown in recent years.

According to Forbes, pets are considered like other assets—noted as either marital property or possibly even non-marital property if one spouse “owned” the pet prior to the marriage. Their fate is, therefore, determined within a larger property division agreement. Sentimental value is put aside and the decision can be made based upon factors such as who has to date provided primary care for a pet and whose lifestyle is best set up for pet ownership going forward. Where any children will live primarily can also be an influencing factor.

Some spouses may also need to watch out for signs that a former partner attempts to use a pet as a bargaining chip during a divorce. Knowing the emotional tie that a person has with a pet can make it all too easy for one person to manipulate the other by dangling the pet as a carrot in exchange for other assets.

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