Domesticated animals are an integral part of American family life, considering the number of people who own dogs, cats and other household pets number in the millions. However, the Illinois court system does not view a beloved pet the same way its owners might — in fact, most state courts identify a pet as property. This brings up the very important question — in a divorce situation, who gets “custody” of the pet?

First of all it is important to note the distinction made by most courts. A spouse is not given custody of a pet the same way he or she might be given custody of a child or children. Instead, courts look at pets as property in the same way a toaster or lawnmower might be accounted for in a divorce settlement. As a result, in many situations pets are relegated to the realm of marital or pre-marital assets, and one or the other spouse will be awarded ownership based on those criteria.

However, there is a growing movement on the state level towards treating dogs, cats and other companions as entities to which the concept of custody can be related. In some state courts, judges are allowing shared or exclusive custody of pets based on similar criteria to child custody — which spouse can provide the best quality of life and so on. This represents a fundamental shift in attitudes regarding the topic of pet ownership.

Illinois residents facing a divorce who do not wish to relinquish ownership of their pet, or who wish to negotiate a custody arrangement, may benefit from finding out how local courts typically deal with such cases. As with everything in divorce scenarios, foreknowledge of the rights and responsibilities of each party can go a long way toward an amicable solution. For many pet owners, the best motivation is wanting the best for a beloved pet.

Source: The Huffington Post, Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?, Nancy Kay, Nov. 10, 2013