Aside from child custody, alimony, and property division, one of the most contentious divorce issues is custody over family pets. While, in the past, companion animals were treated like assets or properties in divorce proceedings, a new Illinois divorce law will require the family courts to start treating them like children.
The new state law—which took effect on January 1, 2018—will require judges to consider “the well-being of companion animals” in allocating sole or joint ownership. This is somewhat similar to determining the best interests of children when allocating parental responsibilities.
Animal rights attorneys say judges will weigh in on who does the day-to-day caretaking of the pet, such as walk, feeding, and vaccinations. However, the law, similar to the one in Alaska, would not apply to service animals.
Before a divorce is finalized, either party is allowed to petition for the temporary or joint possession of the animal, in which the court will consider the well-being of the animal to figure out who should have possession of the animal while the case is pending. If both parties are unable to come to an agreement regarding permanent ownership and/or responsibility of a pet, the court will determine the allocation of the ownership.
Over the last decade, the question of pet custody has become more relevant, especially when it involves a two-income couple with no children who shared responsibility for and are both attached to the companion animal. According to a study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, dogs remain the main animal causing these disputes, while cats and horses come in a distant second.
The new law provides more leeway in deciding what to do with a pet, rather than simply giving it to one side or the other.