Historically speaking, pets were always treated like personal property when determining a settlement in a divorce case. There were no considerations legally for one party to retain “custody” and no provisions for the other party to have visiting time with the pet. The family pet would be awarded to one party in the same manner a vehicle or record collection would be, with the other party being left out in the cold with no recourse. However, a new law in Illinois will change the way pets are dealt with in the context of divorce.
As of January 1, 2018, Illinois family law judges will now be able to take into consideration the best interest of the pet when determining who gets to keep the pet. This includes provisions for if the pet was acquired during the marriage or if one party owned the pet prior to the marriage. Meaning, if you brought a pet into the marriage and are the primary caretaker of the pet, more than likely you will be awarded ownership of the pet in your divorce settlement. The new law also provides for companion pet owners to have sole or joint ownership dependent on the pet’s needs if the pet was acquired during the marriage. Who is better suited to care for the pet will be determined in the best interest for continuing care of the pet. The one stipulation to the new law is that “companion” animals are not the same as “service” animals. If a person has a service animal, that person would keep the animal.
While it’s not exactly the same, in many ways the best interests test is like what is done during child custody cases in Illinois. It makes sense as pets are like a member of the family. My wife and I certainly view our dog that way and I know we are not unique in that regard. Just like child cases, it’s important for you to document what you do for your pet, e.g. time spent walking them, feeding them, taking them to the vet, etc.
If you are considering divorce or break up and worried about who will retain custody of the pet, or if you have questions about pet parenting time, feel free to call us. We will provide a free consultation and put you in touch with a qualified divorce attorney in your area.