The Illinois Stay-at-Home Order due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a surge in pet adoptions over the last few months. Many of these adoptions were made by married Millennials, who often view pet ownership as a substitute for having children. With some parts of the world seeing a rebound from the global health crisis, certain countries have begun to report an uptick in divorce rates. In the States, the health and financial struggles facing couples may have put their relationships and marriages in jeopardy. However, just because your relationship or your marriage might be ending during these challenging times does not mean your lovable “fur baby” needs to feel any negative effects. That is when a “pet-nup” or “pup-nup” might be worth pursuing to ensure that your pet’s best interests will be protected in the event you and your spouse get divorced.
According to most divorce laws, pets are typically viewed as property. However, pets have become more of a focal point in most families’ and married couples’ lives, and in some cases, pets may be viewed more like children or members of the family. After all, dogs and cats are not property; they are living, breathing, sentient beings who deserve to be treated with care, especially when they are considered an important part of the family dynamic. This is why states like Illinois, California, and Alaska have recently passed laws to ensure that a pet’s overall well-being is considered during divorce.
Illinois has already begun codifying such a change in legal guidelines to the benefit of pets in divorce cases. In addition, agreements known as “pet-nuptial agreements” have become more popular. This type of agreement sets the terms of a pet’s care and custody should a couple get divorced. Guidelines set forth in the “pet-nup” might include:
Who gets to see the pet (when and how often)
Where the pet will reside
Who will provide care for the pet (walks, veterinarian checkups, feeding)
Who is responsible for specific pet expenses, such as:
Veterinarian bills and medicine
Supplies (beds, leashes, collars, litter boxes, litter)
Boarding and/or daycare
While these “pet-nups” can stand alone, many couples who develop them have found that creating them in coordination with a prenuptial agreement and child custody arrangements can be particularly beneficial, and it can help avoid conflicts during divorce. For example, planning “pet visitation” in conjunction with parenting time schedules will help the children get used to the “new normal” after divorce by making sure the pets are with them on the same days they are scheduled to visit with one of the co-parents.
Since “pet-nups” are a fairly new development, there are no specific laws or guidelines about them. In general, including decisions about pet ownership as part of a prenuptial agreement is the safest way to ensure that these decisions carry the full weight of the law and are taken seriously. Otherwise, a verbal agreement with your spouse might not be enough, since it will typically not be legally enforceable.
If you are working on a prenuptial agreement and want to incorporate elements of a “pet-nup” in the terms, consider seeking legal guidance from a skilled Downers Grove family law attorney right away. The lawyers at SBK Law Group are creative and knowledgeable, and we can help you adapt traditional legal processes and guidelines to your current situation with your pet. Call our office today at 630-427-4407 to schedule your private consultation.