While you may feel as if your pet is a member of the family, Illinois law generally defines an animal as property. Therefore, it is subject to the same property division rules as a marital home, bank account or art collection. Let’s take a look at how property is divided in a divorce and what you may be able to do to maximize your chances of retaining the rights to an animal companion after a marriage ends.
When was the animal acquired?
If you acquired the animal before getting married, it will likely be considered separate property. Therefore, you will be able to take it with you after a separation or divorce is finalized. Furthermore, if the animal was a gift from your spouse, a family member or a friend, it will likely be seen as a separate asset.
Who was the animal’s primary caretaker?
To some degree, a judge has an ethical duty to ensure that your pet is properly cared for after your marriage comes to an end. If you can show that you were the one who fed, groomed or otherwise took care of an animal, there is a good chance that you’ll receive primary custody.
Include the animal in a prenuptial agreement
Generally speaking, you can determine what happens to a pet in the event of a divorce in a prenuptial agreement. For instance, the document can stipulate that you have the animal during the week while your spouse has it on weekends. If you have children, it might include language allowing them to come visit the animal after school, on weekends or whenever it is convenient to do so.