What Happens To The Family Pet In A Divorce?

While the major consequences of divorce are at the front of the spouses’ minds, the tiny details can be ignored until they suddenly have to be dealt with. One common—but often disregarded—issue that arises during divorce is the question of who continues to care for the family pet. This becomes an even greater concern when children who are greatly attached to the animal are affected by the decision.

Having an experienced Naperville family law attorney by your side ensures that small issues like the family pet are not ignored until someone’s feelings get hurt or it is too late to have a say.

Illinois Law Regarding Pets in Divorce

There is no specific statute that deals with pets during a divorce. In general, animals are treated as property under the law. Many people do not wish to view their beloved dog or cat as the same type of property as the furniture, but according to the law, pets are legally similar. Any pets purchased or adopted during the marriage are included as property in the marital estate and therefore, subject to equitable distribution.

If the pet originally belonged to one of the spouses before the divorce, it may not be part of the marital estate and it will likely remain with that person.

Factors that Affect Pet Decisions in Divorce

When the marital estate is divided, most objects are not split in half, with equal portion going to a spouse. Instead, very often certain property goes to a certain spouse and some property will be sold to split the proceedings. Therefore, if it is left up to the judge to decide, certain factors are used to decide where the pet goes, including:

  • Who usually cares for the pet;
  • Who has the ability to care for the pet moving forward;
  • Who has the strongest attachment to the pet, taking into consideration children;
  • Who purchased or paid the adoption fees for the pet; and
  • Who usually pays for food and veterinary bills.

Shared Pet Custody

It is rare, but in some circumstances spouses will split custody of a dog or cat. If the arrangement is court ordered, one individual may be required to pay the other for the animal’s care.

This situation may seem as if the pet is like a child; however, judges are often reluctant to treat animals and children the same under the law.


It can be difficult to come to an agreement on many issues during a divorce. However, one of the ways to work through the process is through mediation. This provides a safe space for spouses to talk over the issue with a mediator guiding the conversation. A decision during mediation is not binding and can be revisited.

Where the family dog or cat goes to live might seem like a topic that can be put on the back burner, but it can become a contentious topic when it is left with undealt. An experienced DuPage County family law attorney will help you fight to keep your pet, either through mediation or during the distribution of property.