Divorce and the New Pet Law

When considering the option of divorce, it is common for couples to worry about the division of their estate, including (and often, most importantly) what would happen to their beloved Fido. Prior to January 1, 2018, a marital pet would essentially be treated like personal property, and often, that would look like one party getting awarded a pet outright, and the other party being left out in the cold. In the eyes of the court, a pet could not be treated like a child, meaning, the parties could not petition the court for custody or visitation of a pet. However, many pet lovers really do see their pets as family members, not things, and the harsh reality of the way the law treated their four-legged friends felt unfair.

This all changed as of January 1, 2018, with the passage of a new law in Illinois. With the advent of this new law, judges in family law courtrooms are now able to allocate sole or joint ownership of a marital pet in a divorce proceeding, taking the best interest of the animal into account. If a pet was acquired by the parties during the course of the marriage, either party can petition the court for sole or joint ownership. While this law is very newly being put into practice, it is expected that courts will look to who does the caretaking of the pet, as well as what is best for the pet given in the circumstances. It is important to note that this law does not apply to pets acquired by a party prior to the marriage or to service animals.

Section 503(n) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides “If the Court finds that a companion animal of the parties is a martial asset, it shall allocate sole of joint ownership or and responsibility for a companion animal of the parties. In issuing an order under this subsection, the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal. As used in this Section, ‘companion animal’ does not include a service animal.”

Now, pet lovers going through a divorce proceeding in Illinois can rest assured that the best interest of their animal will be considered by the court, and the court will now uphold arrangements for ownership, and potentially even a parenting time arrangement for that animal.

If you would like more information on this topic, please contact the author, family law attorney Colleen Hurley, at 224-836-6172 or churley@lavellelaw.com.