A recent Champaign County case was decided concerning the division of property concerning pets in a divorce. In the case of IRMO Montgomery v. Montgomery, a childless couple had two Shih Tzu dogs together that were about one year apart in age. Both proved to be fit owners and the Husband had both dogs when the Wife moved out. Later, a court order granted each party possession of one pet each. They also had a temporary order to meet with the dogs for a two hour visit alternating weekends.
The visits became a hassle, the parties bickered, there was talk about the husband moving further away eventually, and there was disagreement over with which party the pet would have a better life, given that both have moved on and now had other homes, significant others, and pets.
The Champaign County Circuit Court awarded each party the pet that was currently living with each of them. In coming to its decision, it assessed 14 factors, one of which the court acknowledged was more the well-being of the parties rather than the pet. The well-being of the pet factors included:
Circumstances of ownership;
- Pets’ adjustments to their environment;
- Each party’s past, present and future willingness and ability to provide quality food, shelter, veterinary care and meet other needs of the pets;
- Any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parties relating to decision-making and caretaking functions;
- The quality of any shared time;
- Any potential difficulties with joint ownership/responsibility;
- The distance between the parties and the costs and difficulty of transporting the pets, each parties’ and pet’s daily schedule, and the ability of the parties to cooperate in the arrangement;
- The amount of time each party spent performing caretaking functions and making decisions with respect to the pets in the 24 months preceding the filling of the Petition;
- The interaction and interrelationship of the pets with the parties and other persons and other pets;
- Physical violence or threat of physical violence by a party, or other household member, against the pets;
- Mental and physical health of the parties and pets and special qualities of the pets;
- Ability of the parties to cooperate in decisions/responsibility, or the level of conflict between the parties that may affect this;
- The wishes of the parties (the court acknowledges that this is more about the well-being of a party so not as important as the other factors);
- Each pet’s attachment and bond to the parties.
The court concluded that most factors favored neither party and others favored keeping the status quo. Ultimately, the wife was awarded the dog she currently had in her possession and the husband was awarded the dog he currently had in his possession. The requirement of shared time was furthermore abolished.