Every divorce is different, and the issues that are important to each Illinois couple are as unique as the family unit to which they pertain. When it comes to which party gets custody of the family pets, the issue can quickly become heated and lead to a deadlock in negotiations. However, Illinois couples must understand that family court judges tend to treat pets no differently than any other form of property, and that the same standards of property division that apply to material goods often apply to animal companions.
Couples should try to focus on coming to an agreement between themselves about who will keep the pets before attempting to approach a judge to make that determination. By placing the needs of the pets first, a plan can usually be made that is acceptable for all parties. In many cases, one party is simply better able to provide the best home for a pet or has more time and attention to devote to the pet's needs.
If it becomes necessary to ask a judge to rule on the issue, be aware that not every judge is willing to handle these types of disputes. Some will carefully weigh the arguments of each party and try to make a determination that suits the best interests of the animals in question. This may come into play especially if the animal is very valuable. Others, however, will simply tell the parties to work it out themselves.
Another option involves negotiating a custody or visitation agreement in which parties share time with the pets, in a manner similar to that of child custody. As with any other type of divorce negotiations, these debates can be handled between parties or through the assistance of legal professionals.
In the end, an agreement should be drafted that details the terms clearly. An attorney's help can be invaluable in such matters. Once presented to an Illinois judge for signature, this becomes a binding agreement within the divorce, in the same manner as other matters of property division. Be sure that the terms are acceptable before any such agreement is finalized.
Source: DL-Online, "After a divorce or break-up, what happens to the pet?," Pamela Knudson, Forum Communications, Oct. 23, 2012