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When pets are involved, there may be more than one custody issue

Child custody decisions are often challenging for courts. Historically, the standard for guiding such decisions, in Illinois and across the country, has been the best interests of the child.

The best interest of the child, however, is not always easy to identify in all cases. Spouses who are splitting up can clash over many things, and certainly includes issues of custody and visitation. There may be allegations of domestic violence, for example. Or one ex-spouse may be engaging in conduct that the other deems inappropriate for children to be around, such as substance abuse.

Indeed, some of the same issues that surface in child custody cases can also occur in cases where the couple owned a pet together. Just like children, animals can become pawns in the power struggle between dueling former spouses.

That is why one state - Rhode Island - has already moved to establish animal advocates in the court system. Such advocates would be available to help make judges aware what is best for the animal involved in a pet custody dispute. The Connecticut legislature is now considering a proposal for a similar animal advocate law.

To be sure, there are many other divorce-related issues for the Illinois legislature to decide upon before adjourning its session. As we discussed in our April 15 post, there are substantial divorce reform issues on the table in Illinois this year, including a move toward a shared-income model for child support.

It is hard to underestimate, however, just how important a role pets can play in people's lives - and in their divorces.

Please visit our page on child custody.

"Animal rights action in Connecticut gives hope to advocates across USA," The Westerly Sun, 4-29-13

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