Key Documents You Need in a Pet Custody Case


Did you know that 85 million families in the United States own a pet? Dogs, cats, bunnies, and more become part of the family, making it hard to choose who will have custody in divorce cases. Like with children, both spouses usually want to still be a part of the pet’s life.

However, though pet owners often feel like their pet is part of the family, courts see it differently.

Historically, pets have been viewed as personal property, similar to a sofa or a car, and were awarded to one party or the other. However, recent changes to divorce law in Illinois now recognize the unique and special value of pets. As such, Illinois courts are now able to allocate sole or joint ownership and responsibilities for pets. There are a few things you should consider when determining custody for your pet, and if you’re set on having ownership there are a few documents you’ll need.

Who Should Have Custody?

You should always keep your pet’s best interest in mind, even if it’s hard. The pet should live with the spouse who will be able to provide the best care, whether because they make a higher income or are home more often. If one spouse travels often for work, it might be in the best interest of the pet to live with the other spouse. You should think about living arrangements, time free to spend with the pet, and who can afford to spend money on veterinarian costs if needed. It can be hard to admit, but sometimes pets do have a strong emotional connection to one party over the other, and that should be taken into consideration as well.

Shared Custody Options

A judge can now provide for “joint custody” or arrangements to visit. Courts view pets as personal property, so any custody agreements are between the two parties alone, and generally not enforceable. If you are able to compromise with your spouse, you could come up with a shared custody arrangement or times to visit and spend time with the pet.

Key Documents You Need to Get Pet Custody

Even if you are open to a joint custody arrangement, you might want to be the primary caretaker of the pet. You can have a judge decide the issue of custody for you by thinking of the pet as personal property. If you go this route, you’ll need to show that you have greater interest in the pet. Emotional pleas don’t matter here–it’s all about property interest. Documents that can help you prove your right to custody include:

  • Receipt for purchase of the pet, or adoption papers with your name on them.

  • Receipts for veterinarian bills–from basic shots to any issues that have come up over the years.

  • Receipts for pet food, medication, or other needs.

If you have these documents in your name, it may help show that you have been more financially invested in the pet, and that as property it belongs mostly to you.

Family lawyers deal with pet custody cases all the time. After all, pets are like family. Work with a small law firm where the top lawyers are invested in your case and can help you with the things that really matter to you–like keeping your pets safe and happy in your care. Schiffman Family Law offers a free one-hour consultation to any potential client, so schedule an appointment to learn more about how pet custody works, and what your odds are of keeping your pet with you after the divorce.