Zuba & Associates, P.C.

Pet custody, not child custody, sends some couples to court

The typical American pet tends to be far more than just another cat or dog. Many families consider their pets to be family members, but the divorce process does not handle pets in the same fashion as child custody. To avoid warring over custody of a dog, more and more couples are turning to prenuptial agreements.

Although pets may be treated like family in Illinois, the courts still treat pets as they would any other asset that needs to be divided during a divorce. Property division doesn't usually allow for custody of assets, such as one person getting the toaster Monday through Friday, and the other only getting to enjoy toast on the weekend. This is one of the main reasons why some divorces reach a screeching halt over pet custody, even when child custody may have been relatively easy to iron out.

In Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon's divorce, which we discussed on Oct. 30, 2014 ("Worried about losing money in divorce? Nick Cannon may not be"), the couple has taken their pet battle to court. They apparently jointly owned eight dogs, but actually deciding who gets which pet may be a more difficult decision than they could have anticipated. Part of the issue determining custody may stem from the fact that there really isn't any concrete law stipulating who actually owns a dog.

When a couple goes to court over a pet, the judge might take who initially purchased the pet or who cared for it into consideration. This greatly differs from child custody, which focuses on the best interests of the child. Illinois couples who love and treat their pets no different than children may want to protect them to their fullest extent and make sure that their pet has regular check-ups, is up to date on vaccinations and is always protected against flea and ticks. However, without a pet prenuptial agreement explicitly stating whom the dog belongs to or how custody is to be shared, a divorcing couple could get caught up in a game of tug of war in court, with the pet in the middle.

Source: CBS Minnesota, "Pet Prenups Could Help Curb Custody Battles", Kim Johnson, Nov. 19, 2014

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