Going through a divorce is never easy, and many Chicago residents who file for divorce have particular concerns about pet ownership and pet custody. Illinois is one of only a handful of states that has a law concerning pet custody. While pet ownership or pet custody does not rise to the same level as the allocation of parental responsibilities for children under Illinois law, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) also makes clear that pets are not simply property—like other assets and liabilities—that can be classified and divided during the property division phase of a divorce.
To be clear, even though many people treat their dogs and cats like children, the court will not handle a pet custody case like a child custody case. At the same time, the court will allocate ownership of and responsibility for a companion animal.
Illinois is not the first state to amend its laws concerning pet ownership after a divorce. As an article in Psychology Today suggests, most states still consider pets to be property, and as such, courts will classify them as marital property or non-marital property and will “distribute” the pets like other inanimate assets or debts. However, a few states allow spouses to seek pet custody much like they would seek child custody, and some courts even take into account the best interests of the pet—similar to the “best interests of the child” standard used to allocate parental responsibilities in Illinois.
Other states considering pet custody laws have focused on laws, like Illinois’s pet custody law, that fall somewhere between defining pets solely as property and allowing courts to make pet custody determinations in ways that are seemingly indistinguishable from child custody determinations. Knowing that you can seek ownership of and responsibility for your pet under Illinois law when you are getting a divorce, how do you actually do it?
If you and your spouse can come to an agreement about pet custody, then you can execute a written agreement in which you allocate ownership of and responsibility for any companion animals you own, according to the IMDMA.
To be clear, the IMDMA uses the term “companion animal” specifically to refer to a pet, and it does not use the term to refer to a service animal.
If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement about who will be responsible for the pet, then either of you may petition the court for the allocation of sole or joint possession of and responsibility for the companion animal that you jointly own.
When the court allocates possession of and responsibility for the companion animal, it uses a standard that is somewhat similar to but distinct from the “best interests of the child” standard in child custody cases. In a pet custody case, the IMDMA explains that the court “shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal.”
If you share a pet with your spouse and are getting divorced, you should speak with a divorce lawyer in Chicago about pet custody in Illinois. Contact the Arami Law Office today to get started on your case.
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