Family Law Blog

Property Division, Who Gets Custody of - Fido?

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Divorce and child custody battles often go hand in hand, with property disputes a close second among causes of high emotional and financial impact. Houses, cars, 401K distribution and what to do with the family RV provoke understandably strong emotions. Throw in disputes over who gets the family dog and the emotional stakes are even higher.

In most states, pets are viewed as property. The ultimate ownership of pets is dependent upon many factors, including which partner bought the animal and whether kids are involved.

Many pet owners find this approach heartless given that the animal's welfare isn't necessarily taken into account. The big screen TV and the car may hold high dollar values, but they also aren't granted quite the same status in the minds of owners, or, in fact, the law. Destroying your own television set rarely comes with legal repercussions, but animal abuse is another matter.

According to a new Illinois state law following in Alaska's footsteps, animals will be treated much like children in divorce proceedings. Effective January 1st, 2018, in cases where a divorcing couple is equally attached to a pet, judges in Illinois are now permitted to take the animal's best interests into account, much as they would a child.

The new law applies only in Illinois, but the results bear close watching. Most likely, who will make the better owner will be the main criteria for animal custody decisions, but, as with children, one wonders if that decision could usher in a host of other issues, including visitation. 

While California law still views pets as property, the California Family Code Section 6320 allows pets to be included in protective orders. Some California judges also consider visitation a valid option in pet disputes, as happened in the case of Gigi, whose ultimate disposition included a "bonding study" and cost her owners 100,000 dollars in legal fees.

Custody and ownership as separate issues is the standard in most states and under most conditions, but as pets have become normalized as part of divorce settlements, laws have had to keep up with human emotional bonds. Contact us to learn more about how pets factor into divorce proceedings.