Divorce and the family pet

Who gets custody of the family pet in a divorce? A new law in Illinois says if a couple can't work it out themselves, the court will decide.

Posted: Jan 17, 2018 8:00 PM
Updated: Jan 17, 2018 10:42 PM

MARSHALL, Ill. (WTHI) - Who gets custody of the family pet in a divorce? A new law in Illinois says if a couple can't work it out themselves, the court will decide.

Lawyer Paul Wieck is a partner at Bennett, Schroeder & Wieck. He says, "The well-being of the animal was not what was considered before. In other words, we don't decide who takes best care of their car, or who changes the oil, in deciding who to award the car to. So that's the big change."

Wieck calls it an evolving area of the law. He says, "I think the studies show that pets are a valuable part of the emotional health of the family and I think Illinois is starting to recognize that."

Since an animal’s well-being is being taken into account, what falls under that umbrella? Wieck lists who’s the main caretaker, is there a history of abuse, and more.

Wieck says, "Financial ability of the parties to maintain the animal. But I think you get into other issues, including distance. If the parties reside far away, how are we doing transportation? All of these factors the court has the opportunity to consider in determining what should happen with a pet."

In child custody cases you can ask the child their preference. But, that's not the case for pets!

Wieck says, "Clearly I’d be keeping a piece of bacon in my pocket if I was asking the dog to sit in the middle of the court room to see which party he goes to."

News 10 spoke with Illinois couple Sara and Roy McNabb. They've got almost 11 years of marriage and 2 Labradors between them.
They say if they were to divorce, they'd split the hounds.

Sara says, "I think they show favorites toward their humans. And we as humans kind of show favoritism. So they're close to both of us but there's one that generates more love toward Roy and the other generates his love toward me."

But as a lover of dogs, McNabb says the law is a great step in protecting animals.

She says, "I hope that all people take their pets into consideration. Because we are important to them."

Indiana law doesn't specifically address pet "custody" in a divorce. Officials say ownership is determined similar to other property.

Wieck adds, “Illinois always encourages parties to reach agreements between themselves, plus we don't want the state of Illinois to decide how we raise our children, so we don't want the state deciding who's going to bear responsibility for pets."

It’s important to note that this law only applies to companion animals and not service animals.
To view the law in whole, click here.

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