Illinois Pet Custody
Family law matters, especially a divorce or dissolution of marriage, are often emotionally charged and highly personal in nature. Because many individuals treat pets as part of their family, we are often asked by clients going through a dissolution of marriage: “Who gets to keep our pet?”
Currently, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”) does not specifically reference pets. Given a lack of reference, pets are currently treated as personal property during divorce proceedings. This essentially means that pets are often not legally treated differently from furniture or automobiles, even though pets often mean much more to one or both parties in such a proceeding.
New Law Regarding Pets
Throughout the country, courts and legislatures have begun to recognize that pets should not be treated simply as property. Following this trend, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a law on August 25, 2017, that adds provisions into the IMDMA that specifically refer to how courts should determine which party gets to keep the family pet. The new language takes effect on January 1, 2018, and reads in relevant part: “The court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal.”
This new language may appear vague. However, requiring courts to consider the pet’s “well-being” clearly distinguishes pets from personal property. Yet allocation of pets will still not be treated at the same standard of parental custody of minor children, as the new IMDMA pet provisions do not directly use legal terms synonymous with child matters. Nor are there any specific provisions referencing anything similar to child support.
Further, the new IMDMA language does not define “companion animal.” In all likelihood, courts will use the definition of companion animal that is found in the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act: “Companion animal means an animal that is commonly considered to be, or is considered by the owner to be, a pet. Companion animal includes, but is not limited to, canines, felines, and equines.”
Central Illinois Divorce Lawyers
The new “well-being” standard for pets is a somewhat dramatic change from the current way pets are allocated in a dissolution of marriage. While it is still unknown how these changes may be applied by the courts, if the ownership of your pet may be contested in your divorce the experienced family law attorneys at Bolen Robinson & Ellis are here to help. Please contact us to schedule a consultation.