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Can I get custody of our pet in a divorce?

This is a question all pet lovers seek an answer for in a divorce. Many people consider their pets as members of the family and rightfully concerned about their well-being in the event of divorce. While even those with children want to retain ownership of the family pet, it is often a bigger issue for those without children.

Unfortunately, the simplest answer to your question is no, neither you nor your spouse can be awarded custody of your pet. The reason for this is that pets are property in the eyes of the law, not members of the family. This means that the law in Illinois does not address custody of the pets. Instead, it is a property division issue and must be decided in the same way other property division decisions are made—through Illinois marital property laws.

That said, some courts across the nation have begun to give the matter of pet custody (for lack of a better word) special consideration. While judges are under no obligation or duty to do so, they may consider the following in matters of who gets to keep the family pet:

-- Who can afford to provide the best care financially?

-- Who has been taking care of the animal's basic daily needs?

-- Who has the strongest attachment to the pet?

-- Who originally purchased or otherwise acquired the animal?

Your best course of action is to resolve the matter on your own with your spouse. If you cannot do so, you might want to talk about your pet with a family law attorney. A lawyer can offer you advice about how pets fit into the property division process and may suggest alternative options to resolve your pet property division problems.

Source: Healthy Pets, "The New Rules About Who Gets Your Family Pet in a Divorce," Dr. Karen Becker, accessed April 26, 2016

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