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Posted on in Pet Custody

St. Charles divorce pet custody attorneyWhen determining parenting arrangements for children during divorce, there are rules that help determine a child’s future based on his or her well-being. Divorcing couples will also need to determine how to divide their property and assets. However, what happens when the property shared between a couple is a living thing? For many years, Illinois law treated pets as property, similar to a television or furniture, but the law was recently changed, and additional considerations now apply to pets during a divorce. 

What Has Changed?

In 2018, an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5) regarding the treatment of pets during a divorce was put into effect. Deciding on the “custody” of pets is now handled in a manner that is closer to that of children than it once was. While pets are still considered property, the new law states that when making decisions about ownership of pets—referred to as companion animals in the law—a judge should consider the animal’s well-being. This law, however, does not apply to service animals. A service animal is defined as an animal that is specially trained to benefit a person with a disability, such as a guide dog for a blind person or a seizure response dog that specializes in aiding a person with a seizure disorder. These animals are likely to stay with the person whom they are trained to serve.

When parental responsibilities, or child custody, are determined by the court, the health and safety of the child are put first. While a similar consideration now applies to family pets, the animal’s well-being is just part of the overall equation rather than the top priority. If one party takes better care of the animal, or the other is in an unstable living environment, the pet can be placed with the spouse who will better provide for the animal’s well-being. The party who purchased the pet or regularly took care of the pet may also be taken into consideration.

family pet custody, Humane Care for Animals Act, Kane County divorce attorney, pet custody, pet ownership rightsWhile custody battles are typically associated with fights over who gets the children, the reality is that fights over who gets the family pet can be equally contentious. More than half of Illinois households have a pet, and many of those households likely view their pet as a member of the family. This can create problems when a pet-owning couple divorces.

Illinois law traditionally treats animals as personal property. In a divorce proceeding, the general rule is that the family pet will be awarded to one party or the other. There is no provision for joint ownership. Illinois is an equitable division state, meaning that property will be apportioned fairly but not necessarily equally. Of course, what is fair financially might not be fair emotionally. Some judges recognize this and choose to treat pet custody issues similarly to child custody issues.

There are no specific guidelines for awarding pet custody, but the court could consider factors comparable to the best interests standard. As with children, the court might determine custody based on what is in the best interests of the animal. For example, if one party owned the pet before the marriage, he or she might maintain custody after the marriage. However, there are additional factors the court could consider, including:

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