There is an understandable concern about ensuring the best interest of children during a divorce regarding their living arrangements and a visitation schedule. However, until recently, similar concern has not been extended to family pets. In fact, in the past, pets would more likely be considered more a part of the property division process in Illinois and other states rather than concern about their overall well-being taken into consideration.
The precedent for the treatment of pets was reportedly established in 1995. In a case, a judge ruled that pets are personal property. As such, the judge ruled that courts do not have authority to determine a visitation or custody schedule. However, in the last two years, three states have enacted laws that give judges more discretion in making determinations regarding the best interest of a pet.
Some family law professionals recommend that people trying to come to an agreement regarding their pets in a divorce go the route of mediation, if possible. In mediation, a divorcing couple meets with a neutral third-party who can help them negotiate an agreement regarding their pets in a setting that is often less contentious and more private than a courtroom. Additionally, creating a prenuptial agreement prior to the marriage can lay out what will happen to any pets in the event of a divorce. If one party acquired the pet prior to the wedding, it is possible that the animal will be considered separate property, not subject to division of marital property, but a consultation with a family law attorney can be helpful.
There is no doubt that some people view their pets as important to them as others view their own children. As such, what happens to them following a split can become a contentious question. As attitudes and laws change, pets are increasingly seen as something more than another aspect of property division. Fortunately, an experienced family law attorney can help those in Illinois considering marriage or going through a divorce ensure that their pets' needs are also met.