Custody of Pets in a Divorce

June 13, 2018

By Associate Attorney Marek Dymon

In a divorce, arguments over who keeps the family pet can become very contentious and often lead to resentment between parties. Historically, the courts have treated pets as property, but under new Illinois law, this mindset has changed. More couples see their pets as integral parts of the family and seek custody of the pet during divorce proceedings.  As a result, as of January 1, 2018, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act was amended to provide guidance for judges to assist in determining who has custody of pets.

Under the new law, a judge is allowed to decide who will get the family pet in a divorce based on the best interest of the animal. Previously, the law treated pets like any other property and the animals were to be distributed according to a property settlement agreement. This concept did not sit well with many, as most consider their pets to be a part of their family. The new law aims to correct this by viewing pets less like property and more like members of the family. Under the new statutory amendment, judges in divorce proceedings can consider the well-being of pets in allocating sole or joint ownership. Judges are allowed take the best interest of the animal into consideration. The court will look at factors such as who spends the most quality time with the pet and who handles most of the day to day care. The parties also can now have joint ownership of the pet and can even share time spent with the animal. There is now much more flexibility in deciding what to do with a pet in the event of divorce.

Although the new law allows the court to award custody of a pet based on the best interest of the animal, it is important to know that this only applies to a pet that is considered to be a martial asset. With this, if the pet was acquired by the spouse prior to the marriage, it is then still considered nonmarital property and would be awarded to that spouse. "Pets are often cherished by their owners, and it is important to know the laws behind pet custody when going through a divorce," says Joe Coli, Partner at Illinois Advocates.  Pet custody only applies to pets acquired during the course of marriage.

If you need more information, call Illinois Advocates today.

Illinois Advocates
77 W. Washington St.
Suite 2120
Chicago, IL 60602

Phone: 312-818-6700
Fax: 312-492-4804