Family law is constantly changing to suit new customs and priorities. A prime example: the recent changes we have seen in the way that Illinois divorce courts treat pet ownership and care.
Until recently, animals were little different than property. Now, the court may consider the best interests of the pet when determining ownership and responsibility — joint or sole.
Multiple factors could decide pet ownership
There are several things that could influence a judge’s decision about your pets. The most definitive would be the service animal status. For example, a seeing-eye dog would almost undoubtedly stay with the person it assists — even if both of you loved the pet.
Aside from that, the divorce court could consider a variety of other factors. These might include:
- The wellbeing of the pet
- When the pet joined the family (i.e. during or before the marriage)
- Feasibility of visitation plans
Your plan might be an important factor in success
Similar to parenting plans for children, visitation plans for pets might benefit from some careful attention. It is often much easier to manage exchanges, decisions and schedules when there is a solid framework in place. This, in turn, usually helps avoid conflict and further litigation.
New laws often produce less predictable outcomes
This part of Illinois divorce law is still in its infancy. As a result, the rules could change quickly depending on the type and volume of conflict that occurs over pet visitation agreements.
It might make sense to work especially hard to reach an independent agreement with your spouse about your animals. Terms in your negotiated divorce papers might be more advantageous than whatever a judge decides.