For many people, having a pet, such as a dog or a cat, is not equivalent with just having another asset that is to be divided at the time of separation or divorce; instead, the relationship with a pet more closely resembles that with a child or close family member, and therefore losing custody of a pet can be a very emotional experience.
For those who are divorcing and who have a close relationship with their pet, asking for pet visitation may be an option. Here’s a look into what you need to know regarding getting visitation with your pet during an Illinois divorce:
Recent Change to Illinois Law Allows for Pet Custody Decision
Prior to 2018, pets in an Illinois divorce case were treated like property and divided per the state’s equitable distribution laws as such. Following a law that went into effect in January 2018, however, family courts in Illinois can now consider the wellbeing of animals (similar to how the best interests of the child are weighed) in allocating sole or joint ownership/custody, as explained by an article in the Chicago Tribune. As a note, the new law excludes service animals, who will be awarded to the party who requires service.
But What About Visitation?
The law takes into account the wellbeing of the animals and can award one party ownership based on that wellbeing as such, but what about the visitation rights of the other party?
Currently, there is not any precedent in Illinois for a court awarded sharing custody of an animal or providing for visitation rights. In fact, while there is one well-cited case (Enders v. Baker) in which a court originally did grant pet visitation, the case ended up with the appellate court refusing to grant pet visitation. However, with the new law, it will not be surprising if shared pet-parenting plans become more common.
Resolving a Pet Visitation Case Out of Court
For couples who are getting divorced and share a pet together that both parties love and care for, the best way to resolve the issue of who will get custody of the pet–and whether or not visitation will be part of the divorce settlement–is to reach an agreement out of court. If necessary, working with a mediator or a lawyer who can aid you in negotiations may be helpful. While going to court is always an option, going to court is more expensive, time-consuming, and stressful, and may not yield the outcome you are hoping for.
Our Pet Custody Attorneys Can Help
At the law firm of Fay, Farrow & Associates, P.C., we are animal lovers ourselves, and know that a pet is much more than just a piece of property. If you are going through a divorce and are worried about losing custody of your pet or visitation time with your pet, our lawyers can help you. To schedule a consultation with our legal team, please call us or email us today, and we will return your inquiry in a speedy manner. We serve clients throughout the state of Illinois.