New “Pet Custody” Law Takes Effect in Illinois

Who gets “custody” of the dog or cat in the event of a Chicago divorce? Can a judge enter an allocation judgment that is similar to an allocation of parental responsibilities, or are family dogs, cats, birds, and other pets simply treated like marital assets that are eligible for distribution as marital property? If you are thinking about getting divorced in Cook County and you share a pet (or multiple pets) with your spouse, it is important to take a careful look at a new Illinois law that took effect on January 1, 2018. The law, P.A. 100-0422, treats pets more like children than like property.

Redefining a Companion Animal in Illinois

According to a recent report from NPR Illinois, Democratic Rep. Linda Holmes sponsored P.A. 100-0422 in order to have a better definition of a “companion animal” or a pet under Illinois law. Prior to the change in the law, pets or companion animals were treated as possessions and could thus be classified as marital property subject to division during a divorce. As Holmes explained, “we sort of wanted to make sure that we were looking at what’s in the best interest of the animal.” Indeed, she clarified, “because an animal, while it may be considered a possession, is something that people are attached to much more personally than they are to their actual possessions.”

To be clear, the change to the law not only changes how courts deal with pets in a divorce, but also reframes the way pets are considered. Whereas companion animals used to be considered property—akin more to inanimate objects—the law now sees companion animals as beings whose best interests should be considered. It is important to note that the law does not apply to service animals, which are dogs trained specifically to provide assistance to individuals with disabilities.

What Does the New Law Look Like?

Under the new law, possession of the pet or companion animal can be allocated by the court. More specifically, either spouse in a divorce proceeding “may petition or move for the temporary allocation of sole or joint possession of and responsibility for a companion animal jointly owned by the parties.”

In allocating joint or sole ownership of a pet or companion animal, the statute now underscores that “the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal.” Not unlike the “best interests of the child” standard that the court uses in allocating parental responsibilities, the court is required to consider what may be in the best interests of the pet when allocating possession to one or both of the spouses.

Also similar to parental responsibilities, the statute permits spouses to enter into a written agreement that allocates “ownership of and responsibility for any companion animals owned by the parties.” This type of written agreement is necessary for any party that wants to file a joint petition for simplified dissolution.

Seek Advice From a Chicago Divorce Lawyer

If you have questions about the recent changes to Illinois law with regard to companion animals and divorce, you should speak with a Chicago divorce lawyer about your case. Contact Arami Law for more information.

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