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Don't let a bark turn into a bite re pet custody in divorce

You may be among many others in Illinois whose dog is a beloved member of your family. After all, your relationship began when your dog was a mere eight-week-old puppy and has continued for more than a decade. Bringing your puppy home together may be a cherished memory you have with your spouse. However, now that you've decided to divorce, discussions about your pet have grown quite contentious, namely, which one of you will have custody?

Traditionally, the court typically considers pet decisions part of property division negotiations rather than custody agreements in divorce. Whether or not you have children, the placement and care of your beloved pet is also of paramount importance where your divorce settlement is concerned. That's why it helps to know your rights and how to access support when needed if a pet custody dispute arises.

Who gets the dog; who pays the vet bills and more?

Just as parents of children must negotiate fair and agreeable terms for new parenting plans in divorce, you can save a lot of time, money and stress if you're able to work out an amicable arrangement with your former spouse regarding pet care. The following tips might help:

  • Illinois law includes pets under property division guidelines. As an equitable property state, there is no definite answer to which spouse should live with a pet that was shared (and loved) by both spouses in marriage.
  • If you are able to reach a compromise and develop a pet plan with your former spouse ahead of time, the court need only approve your agreement in order for it to stick.
  • It's always best to leave wiggle room for changes, if needed as time goes on. It's not a good idea, however, to restrict such lenience to verbal discussions. As with most other divorce-related agreements, it's generally best to get it all in writing.
  • There is really no such thing as pet support akin to child support post divorce. You and your spouse can set in writing any type of shared financial responsibilities to which you both agree. If you don't agree, the court will decide such matters for you.

Another topic to consider when you're developing a new pet plan in divorce, is which of you (or will it be both?) will be legally accountable for any liability that exists if your pet bites someone. Many people simply agree that the person who has physical custody of the pet at the time of an attack will bear the cost of any monetary penalties associated with the situation.

Reaching out for support

Life changes. You may relocate for work, get married and move into a new home many miles away or face a health problem that renders you unable to care for your pet. In such times, you may face challenges regarding your shared pet agreement. When problems arise, it's good to know where to turn for help.

Many Illinois pet owners stay connected to the family law attorneys who helped them navigate divorce proceedings in case they need further assistance to resolve pet-related, post-divorce problems.

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