Don’t Forget the Pets

May 1, 2021

This is our dog, (Sir) Winston and our cat, Thundercloud. They are camped out in my home office. Our human children are grown and off on their own, so these guys are the “kids” in the house. And we love them very much (almost as much as our real children).

After all, who doesn’t love their pets?

For years, it seems that the legal system has viewed pets as property, while, in reality, our pets are much more to most of us than possessions.

This is why any divorce mediation I conduct includes a discussion about pets. For years, it seems that the legal system has viewed pets as property, while, in reality, our pets are much more to most of us than possessions. They live and breathe; they require love and attention; they require food, shelter and trips to the veterinarian. Sounds like children to me, except for the clothing and perhaps the attitude (although Thundercloud has more attitude than our kids ever did, combined).

Any conversation about pets is likely to include these questions:

  1. What is the plan for daily care (especially important for dogs)?
    2. What is the plan for where they will live? Will they move between homes, and if so, on what kind of schedule?
    3. What is the plan for expenses, especially veterinarian bills?

In some states, like Illinois, the ownership of and responsibility for a pet who was adopted or acquired during the marriage can be decided by a court, awarded either solely to one spouse or jointly to both. In making these decisions, the well being of the pet is considered.

Because pets matter, and because they deserve thoughtful planning just like all the other aspects of divorce, mediation creates a neutral setting where these decisions can be discussed, taking into account the needs of the spouses and the needs of the pets.