The Chicago Family Law Blog

In A Divorce, Who Gets Custody Of The Family Dog?

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This blog has covered the issue of pet custody in divorce proceedings before; but it's worth revisiting, since so many U.S. households consider dogs, cats and other beloved creatures as family members. The latest installment of attorney Michael Helfand's legal column in Chicago Now explores the issue of pet custody. 

This blog's prior entry about pet custody pointed out that pets are treated like any other piece of "property" in a divorce, with no special legal significance. And legally, pets are awarded to one person or another (you can't "split the dog," in other words).

However, Michael Helfand said, most Chicago family law attorneys are familiar with pet custody issues and even some judges recognize that pets are not simply pieces of property, like a couch or a television set. He suggested working out an agreement as the pet's "parents" outside of the legal system:

"It's much less expensive and time-consuming... If you already have an attorney, they should be able to help, although it may cost you. I've seen cases drag out for years over a dog."

If a divorce goes to trial and the two parties have not reached an agreement on the family dog or cat, it just depends on the particular judge. Some treat pets not like children but differently than inanimate objects. There is no established law on pet custody, since pets are property in the eyes of the law, but some judges will combine elements of property law and child custody law in some instances.

Like any area of the law, it usually depends on the facts. If one spouse had the pet before marrying or living with the other spouse, then that first party typically is awarded custody. The person who walks, feeds and otherwise does most of the caretaking also may get custody of the pet; similarly, the party who will be more likely to properly care for the pet after the divorce often gets custody.

If you're considering a divorce and want more information about what to do with the family pet, speak with an Illinois family lawyer experienced in those matters.

Related Resources:

  • How Do Judges Decide Disputed Property Issues? (FindLaw)
  • Contact a Divorce Attorney in Chicago (FindLaw)
  • Pet Custody in Divorce and Separation: Who Gets Fido? (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life Blog)

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