The Law Firm of Franks & Rechenberg, P.C.

Who Gets Fido in your Divorce?

Pets in divorce cases

How Do You Decide Who Gets the Family Pets?

Effective January 1st 2018, a new Illinois divorce law will let a judge decide who is the best parent for the family pet.

Previously, companion animals were treated like furniture in a divorce. They were divided up between the splitting couple as part of the value of the estate. But on January 1st a judge will now be able to consider who walks the dog more or who cleans out the fish tank and award the pet accordingly.

The law, sponsored by Senator Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, is meant to treat pets less like property and more like family. “It has feelings and emotions.” Holmes said. “They’re looking at what would be in the best interest of the animal.”

Holmes, who served as Brookfield Zoo docent and volunteers with the Naperville Humane Society, said both sides may present their positions as to why they would have the best interests of keeping Fido. The judge would, in theory, be able to grant joint custody of the pup.

The law does not apply to service animals.

So who does the dirty work and cleans up after the pet? Who gives the pet vaccinations? Anything now that happens in the normal care of the pet will be relevant now.

Animal custody was becoming more common in courtroom battles up until the last couple of years. Personally, I have had numerous divorce cases where the issue of where the dog would be kept was a sticking point. I have also had several cases involving the better “parent” for six raccoons, a parrot, horses, bearded dragons, snakes, turtles and a Madagascar hissing cockroach. All of these cases have already been decided. A study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed that a third of their lawyers said couples divorced in the last three years were more likely to settle pet custody disputes outside the court room.

Dogs, they said, remain the top animal causing these disputes with 96 percent of the respondents. Cats and horses com in a distant second with 1 percent each.

Alaska was the first to change its divorce laws to give pets a higher status in divorce proceedings.