Issue of Pet Visitation in Divorce
Courts have “No Authority” over Pets during Divorce

For many people, pets are their family, and an astounding 65 percent of households have at least one pet. With that being said, it should not be surprising that divorcing couples often argue over who will get “custody” of the beloved family dog, cat, or other animal. While couples may argue otherwise, the truth is judges have “no authority” over shared pets during a divorce proceeding.

An example of this comes out of Illinois:  during the divorce, the husband petitioned to allow visitation with two dogs who were residing with the wife. Until that time, the wife had denied him visitation. The court ordered a temporary visitation for the husband, allowing him to spend time with the dogs every other weekend from 10:00 a.m. on Saturday until 8:00 p.m. on Sunday.

When the divorce trial began, one of the issues was the couple’s relationship with the two dogs and who had “rights” to them. In defense of the visitation order, the wife explained that when the couple separated the husband moved out of the family home and left the animals in her care. Additionally, someone was always home with the dogs, and they enjoyed their backyard.

This was important – the husband did not have someone to be with the dogs, and he lived in an apartment without a backyard. After the trial ended, the judge awarded “custody” of the two dogs to the wife and denied the husband visitation. The husband appealed the decision, with him noting the court had the authority to order visitation and his visitation was in the dogs’ best interests.

During the appeal process, the court established that the sole statutory definition of a “pet owner” would be defined using the Animal Control Act. Under this legislation, an “owner” is defined as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or one who keeps or harbors an animal, has it in his or her care, or acts as its custodian.” In this case, the wife was awarded ownership of the dogs.

In conclusion, as society moves from viewing pets as “property” and begins to view them more and more as family, there will likely be more instances of couples arguing over the “custody” of their beloved family pets. While it is possible for legislation to change with the times, the current laws stand that when a marriage ends, the court has no legal authority to award “custody” of pets.

4 thoughts on “The Issue of “Pet Visitation””

  1. My brother passed away in April and he lived with my sister who now has possession of his dog but I was involved in the adoption of the dog with him and while my brother was extremely ill I went over every single day and helped him take the dog out and then when he was on hospice I was there every single day helping with the dog when he passed my sister got very controlling and only allowed once a week when she was home when I used to be able to just go in and take her anytime I wanted to the park right behind their house and now the day The day before yesterday we had a falling out and told me I can never see the dog again she doesn’t trust me I promised my Brother that I would stay in his dogs life how do I get to hours a week visitation for my brothers dog I will go to court against my sister if I have to to keep my promise to my brother on his deathbed

  2. Lupita B Jimenez

    The laws are NOT WRITTEN IN STONE!
    These laws or lack of MUST MOVE FORWARD with CHANGES!! MAKING a pet a MEMBER of THE FAMILY!! Just like A CHILD!!
    I AM ALL FOR CHANGE!!
    I AM AN ADVOCATE FOR CHILDREN & PETS THAT R
    INOCENT BY STANDARDS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE & AT TIMES USED AS BARGAIN CHIPS OF DIVORCE BATTLES!!
    LUPITA B JIMENEZ
    VOICING MY HEART FELT OPINIIN “”FOR CHANGE””!!
    VISITATION RTS FOR THE OTHER ONE WHO LOOSES THE BABY BOY FIGHTO!! THE PROPERTY NOT!!!

  3. Verbal agreement for pet visitation but not written. I have asked several times for visitation and have received no response. He would not have them if it weren’t for me. I initiated and completed the adoption of both pets. I have witnesses for both.

    1. How do i go about just getting visitation of my Dog?. Me and wife got divorced and I allowed her to have him at her request as long as i have visitation on weekends. Everything went well until she remarried and cut me off. I have tried over and over again asking her but she refuse. He was my desire of having a Yorkie in the first place. I’m really worried to because this new guy she married has 3or 4 cats and 5 or 6 big dogs. Its been over 3 months now and i don’t know if he’s dead or alive. I’m getting flashes about him everyday. I Miss him badly. Can you help in what i can do?. And thank you for your time. Bruce Nelson

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