Last Updated: October 3, 2022

Maybe you were a couple that had fur babies instead of human babies, or maybe you just never got to that point in your marriage where you added children, or maybe you have fur babies and human babies.  If you have a pet or pets that were brought into the home during your marriage, there is a real possibility that both parties have grown attached to that pet and want custody.  Is there such a thing as joint custody of a pet?

Custody of a Pet

May states have begun to change their laws regarding pets – they aren’t treated the same way as children, obviously, but they are no longer just treated as property (like a couch) anymore either.   As an example, let’s look at the State of Illinois (many states are writing almost identical laws as Illinois family law – so read up!).

Prior to 2018, Illinois law considered pets personal property, and as such, divided up a pet or pets with the marital assets.  Recently, those laws have changed.  Since many view pets as part of their family, there has been a need to treat pets like children and address the custody of a pet in what is called a Joint Custody Order.  In situations where it makes sense for the parties to share custody, the Judge can issue an order for shared custody.  

This would not apply though in situations where the pet is a service animal, in those situations the pet will stay with the person they are trained to service.  Additionally, if domestic abuse is present in the marriage, it may not be in the best interest of the pet to go with the abuser.  In situations where an agreement cannot be reached, the court will get involved and will determine what is in the pets’ best interest.  Some things to consider regarding joint custody of your pet:

Agreed Custody of a Pet Visitation

It is in everyone’s best interest to figure out a pet visitation schedule amongst yourselves and keep the court out of it.  Oftentimes, if there is a visitation schedule followed for the children, the pets will follow that same schedule – which makes sense.  If there are no kids, an example could be following an ‘every other weekend’, or weekends only schedule.  If you can’t agree on a schedule, the Judge will get involved and determine what works best for the pet, and that custody of a pet schedule may not be best for you.

Custody of a Pet – Pets Best Interest

The main thing to consider when determining if a Joint Custody of a Pet Order is necessary, is what is in the best interest of your pet.  Sure, you both love your pet and want to spend time with your pup or your kitty but ask yourself if what you are asking for is in the animals best interest. 

For example: if you work full-time with several late nights a week, it may not be in your pets’ best interest to live with you.  The same goes for your with living situations.  If one of you lives in an apartment and one of you has a house with a fenced in back yard, which living situation would be best for your pet?  If it’s a dog, the yard makes sense, if it’s an indoor cat, either situation could work. 

Keep Your Feelings (for your ex) Out of It

As hard is it may seem, try to keep your feelings for your ex out of it.  Don’t use your pet as leverage to hurt the other person, think about what situation would be best for your pet and go with that.  If one of you is moving to a different state, does it make sense to shuttle your pet back and forth?  Probably not.  This may cause your pet a large amount of unnecessary stress and an order awarding joint custody of a pet in this situation probably isn’t good for anyone involved.

Next Steps

Getting joint custody of a pet is new within the law and not every state has begun writing laws addressing this challenge. But keep in mind that if your state does not address this, you still might be able to agree on this in a court order – and court orders must be followed, so it still will have some level of enforcement by the court should someone change their mind. Speaking with an experienced divorce attorney for a free consultation is usually the first step to finding out the laws in your state. Your attorney can address your questions and prepare your Joint Custody of a pet Order for filing along with your divorce decree.  Have the terms of your visitation schedule ironed out to cut down on costs and always remember to do what is best for the animal.

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