A recent Illinois divorce case, along with its subsequent appeal, has set a precedent of sorts regarding a court’s authority over pet visitation following the end of a marriage. With relatively little statutory guidance and a dearth of previous examples heard by Illinois courts, the trial court cited a New York Supreme Court ruling from 2013 in making its decision, refusing to grant companion animals the same status as a couple’s children in a divorce proceeding.
According to court documents, the couple in question got married in 2002, and, during the marriage, acquired two large dogs. The couple split after about ten years of marriage, and the husband claimed that their intention was to share custody of the dogs. As the divorce proceedings continued, the husband, who had left the dogs in the care of the wife when he moved out, was granted temporary visitation with the dogs, despite living in a smaller apartment where dogs were technically prohibited. The man testified that he had verbal permission from his landlord to allow the dogs to visit. At trial, the court recognized the wife as the dogs’ sole owner and terminated the temporary visitation order. The husband appealed the decision.
New York Influence
In any divorce involving children, Illinois law requires the court—as well the parents—to make decisions that are in the children’s best interests, even if those decisions require sacrifice or inconvenience on the part of the parents. The “best interests of the child” standard is to be upheld in every child-related proceeding, such as the allocation of parental responsibilities, parenting time, adoption, guardianships, and many other. The trial court in the aforementioned divorce, however, would not extend the same standard to the couple’s dogs.
Citing a 2013 New York Supreme Court decision, the court recognized that dogs are more than mere property, but “do not rise to the same level of importance as children.” Therefore, the court applied a “best for all concerned” standard which balances property ownership rights with the need for the dogs to have appropriate care and space. The trial court also agreed with the New York Supreme Court’s assertion that ordering visitation would open the door “for endless post-divorce litigation.” On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s reasoning and decision on the matter.
Negotiate Your Divorce Terms
With some degree of case law precedent now available in Illinois, divorce courts are less likely to take an opposing position regarding visitation orders for dogs, cats, or other pets. If you are a pet owner in the midst of a divorce, however, you certainly have the right to negotiate a pet custody and visitation agreement with your spouse. You can choose the terms, schedule, and each party’s responsibilities for the pets, and the arrangement could be legally enforceable by mutual agreement.
For assistance with developing a divorce agreement that addresses your pets’ needs along with all of the other necessary considerations, contact an experienced Kane County family law attorney. We can help you reach a settlement quickly and efficiently, often avoiding the uncertainty and stress of litigation. Call Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C., today at 630-377-7770 to schedule your free introductory consultation.