How is my pet treated under Illinois’ new divorce law?
If you are an Illinois resident contemplating divorce, your life currently is in somewhat of a shambles. Questions abound and most of them do not as yet have answers. Will I get custody of my children? If so, how much visitation will my soon-to-be ex-spouse receive and under what circumstances? How will we divide our property? Must we sell the house or can I remain living in it, hopefully with my children? If you love your pet almost as much as you love your children, you probably have one more question to add: What will happen to my pet?
While there may be no current answer to this question either, at least you can take comfort in the fact that Illinois’ new divorce law gives pets far more consideration than they had before. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, under this new law which took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement regarding who gets custody of your pet after your divorce, you can litigate this issue in court in much the same way as you would litigate child custody. And much like in a child custody dispute, a judge in a pet custody dispute must take the well-being of the pet into consideration when making his or her custody decision.
Pets are property
Illinois’ new law maintains your pet’s status as personal property, but not just any property. This property is alive and has feelings. Therefore, this property’s comfort and welfare must be a major factor in determining which of you gets custody. The judge also must know who acquired the pet and when.
If you acquired your pet prior to your marriage, (s)he is your separate property and belongs to you separately. Likewise, if your pet is actually your service animal, (s)he is yours and yours alone. If like most pets, however, you acquired yours during your marriage, then (s)he is marital property belonging to you and your spouse jointly. This is where his or her comfort and welfare become important considerations if and when a custody dispute arises.
Many times divorcing couples, again analogous to child custody, agree to joint custody of their pets. If both you and your spouse love your pet and have mutually provided his or her food, exercise and other necessities over the years, joint pet custody may well be your best option. This information is educational in nature and should not be interpreted as legal advice.