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Custody of pets as part of a divorce

Illinois couples who are divorcing and who have dogs or cats may wish to include those pets in their divorce settlements. Increasingly, couples are arranging for visitation and negotiating custody of their shared pets. Traditionally, animals are considered property just like household furniture, but there is a shift in some courts toward determining what happens to them in response to owners' emotional attachments.

In 2013, there was a landmark case in New York that deal with a divorcing couple and their dog. One spouse had given the dog to the other as a gift. During the divorce, the one who gave the dog as a gift argued that she had financially supported the pet, but the other individual pointed out that she was the owner. The court opted to use a standard of what was "best for all concerned" and set aside a day for a hearing that considered the dog's welfare as well as that of its owners.

Some couples are also including pets in their prenuptial agreements. These agreements may deal with visitation and custody and might specify the person who owned the pet prior to the marriage as having primary custody in case of a divorce, with the other perhaps being allowed some form of visitation.

Whether they are dealing with pet custody or other property issues, individuals who are divorcing may wish to work with a family law attorney. Even in an amicable split, some may not look after their own best interests due to guilt about the divorce. If pets are involved in the divorce as well, it may be advisable to agree that the individual who travels frequently for work should not have primary custody of the pet.

Source: USA Today, "Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles", Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2014

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