We all love our pets, whether they bark, purr, squeak or squawk. Referred to in Illinois as companion animals, our furry or feathery friends are truly members of the family. Due to the unconditional love they provide, it might go without saying that if the pet’s owners divorce, each party may have an emotional attachment to their pet, and therefore may want to be the one to keep the pet once the split is final.
Illinois residents may be surprised to hear that historically pets were considered property for divorce purposes, and thus were subject to the equitable division of assets, just like the couple’s house, furniture, motor vehicles and bank accounts were. This may seem rather callous, as oftentimes people may value their pets over their things.
However, a recent change in Illinois law speaks directly to what will happen to pets in a divorce. Although the terms such as best interests or custody are not used, as they would be in child custody cases and although pets are still considered an asset, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, now states that when determining which party should keep the pet, courts will consider the pet’s well-being.
This also means that who should keep the pet may be contested by one party or the other in court. Under the law, either party is allowed to move the court to issue a temporary order regarding who will keep the pet, whether it is sole ownership or joint ownership. Or, it may also be possible for the parties to enter into a pet custody agreement out-of-court. Also, if the court determines that a pet is a marital asset, it will give ownership of the pet either solely to one party or jointly to both parties.
When we love our pets, it can be difficult to decide who will keep them after a divorce. In the end, it is important that the pet’s well-being is considered, as Illinois law now provides. Those who are going through a divorce and want to retain ownership of their pets may want to contact an attorney who can provide advice on how to proceed.