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Who gets the dog in the divorce in Illinois?

Illinois is one of the few states in the country that -- thanks to a relatively recent law -- allows judges to treat dogs (and other pets) as something other than property that has to be allocated to one spouse or the other in a split.

Under Illinois law, judges can now consider the "best interest of the animal" when deciding who gets custody of a family pet. The law only applies to pets that are potentially marital assets -- as service animals belong to the person they are designed to assist, and pets that were owned prior to marriage are individual property.

While judges and attorneys say that pet custody usually gets worked out by the divorcing couple before they get all the way to court, there are times when it becomes a real issue. When that happens, the situation can quickly escalate into a full-blown battle.

So, how do you show that you're the best person to keep custody of a pet? Here are some suggestions:

Keep good records

Keep every receipt and piece of paperwork associated with your pet. While your name on the purchase agreement won't be the deciding factor, it can help. So can all the receipts showing that you did the shopping for the animal's bed, food, toys and other care items.

Get your vet's recommendation

If you're the spouse that always handled the vet visits, paid for the treatment and communicated concerns over the animal's health, the vet may be willing to write something up from their perspective that could help sway the judge.

Ask for witness support

If you're the one who walked the dog and played with it, the odds are good that your neighbors are aware of your close relationship. They may be willing to testify on your behalf.

Your pet is important to you, so make sure that you address your concerns about your animal's welfare and custody to your attorney early in your divorce process for the best results.

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