Who gets the kids? The house? The car? And…. the dog? The long important question of how to settle custody disputes over a family’s pet during a split now has a concrete foundation. The State of Illinois allows pets to be considered for sole or joint ownership during divorce proceedings. The new law, effective January 1, 2018, gives decision making power over dogs, cats, horses and other animals to judges who will determine the best fit for the animal’s home based upon previous care provided and the relationships between the owner and the pet.
In the animal hospital, we have seen this handled very well for many years when a cooperative agreement is reached between both parties during a divorce or separation. Take for instance the case of a cherished Boxer named “Kooper” who was beloved by his divorcing owners. For years, this couple provided the best holistic care for Kooper until the end of his life. His owners had both moved on to new lives but Kooper was always loved and provided for until the end. That genuine commitment and responsibility is the absolute ideal in divorcing families and it’s ideal for animals for numerous reasons.
Many things can happen to an animal and its health when a home is broken and people move on with their lives. This can range from abandonment, poor care, lack of funds for care, moving to smaller homes or apartments and troublesome health problems. But with planning and foresight, responsible owners should consider this strongly from the start. Recently, another example of the best of the best pet owners came into the office for care on a new puppy. The couple was not yet married but planned for their pet in their prenuptial agreement and addressed their plans and concerns with me about their future. It was very insightful and showed deep care and concern for their pet.
I encourage everyone to provide structure and organization to address future needs for domestic animals. With the support of legislation, courts and owners, Illinois pets will have better care and consideration in the years to come. Call this 2018 law a win-win for pets and families alike. -Dr Jim Carlson