March 16, 2018

Divorce and Pets: What Happens to Fido?

Effective January 1, 2018, Illinois joined a growing number of states that take a new approach when it comes to pets in divorce. Under the new law in Illinois, during the course of a divorce judges will take into consideration the “well-being” of the pet. In states with similar statutes, courts have looked at factors such as who was responsible for feeding the pet, who took the pet to their grooming appointments, and who walked the pet when making a determination on who should keep the pet.

What does that mean for people contemplating or going through divorce in Minnesota? As of right now, nothing. Minnesota currently takes the “traditional” approach when it comes to pets in divorce; that is that animals are considered property and treated as such. If a divorce case goes to trial before a judge and there is a dispute as to who owns the pet, then the judge will divide the pet in the same way as property. First there will be a determination as to if the pet is marital or non-marital property. If the pet was purchased during the marriage, with joint assets, then it is marital. If one party brought the pet into the marriage, or if it was bought using separate funds during the marriage, then that party may have a non-marital claim to the pet provided that he or she can provide the necessary documentation to back up his or her claim.

When it comes to an actual outcome, if one party is able to prove a non-marital claim to the pet then the court would most likely award the pet to that party. If the pet is deemed to be marital property, then the court will end up awarding the pet to one party as part of the division of the marital assets.

Now, it is important to note that while Minnesota may not be as progressive as other states when it comes to recognizing that pets are essentially family members for many of us, Minnesota is not totally without a heart. In cases where there are children involved, many times judges will take into account the relationship between the children and the pet when deciding who to award the pet to. Very often, the party that ends up having more time with the children will end up being awarded the pet as well.

Just because the law doesn’t recognize the true importance of your pet, that doesn’t mean that your pet has to be treated as property during the divorce. Speaking with an experienced family law attorney at the start of the divorce can help, as they can discuss options to settle this issue prior to getting in front of a judge. Results such as a pet visitation schedule and utilizing a joint account for both parties to contribute to the costs of care for the pet are just some of the outcomes an attorney can help clients achieve.