Pet Custody in Illinois Divorce

Due to the rise in couples foregoing having children and instead deciding to become “pet” parents, it has become more common for couples going through divorce to want to set forth clear provisions for the allocation of their pet. Illinois has recently enacted a statute to specifically address pet related issues in divorce proceedings.

Law Surrounding Pet Custody

In January 2018, Illinois included a new provision, (750 ILCS 5/503(n)) to the Illinois and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the statute governing the disposition of property in a divorce.

Section 5/503(n) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act is now read as follows:

Section 503(n) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act now states “[i] f the court finds that a companion animal of the parties is a marital asset, it shall allocate the sole or joint ownership of and responsibility for a companion animal of the parties. In issuing an order under this subsection, the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal. As used in this Section, ‘companion animal’ does not include a service animal as defined in Section 2.01c of the Humane Care for Animals Act.”

Factors the Court Considers

Illinois courts are now required to consider the pet’s well-being when deciding which party is allocated possession of the pet only if the pet is a marital asset. Other factors that the Judge may take into consideration is who is the one that takes care of the pet, spends time with the pet, feeds the pet and incurs the fees for the veterinary bills.

It’s important to note that a Judge will not consider these factors if the pet was acquired by one of the parties prior to the marriage or is a service animal of one of the parties.

Reach an Agreement Outside of the Courtroom

Parties may want to seek mediation before heading to court to resolve this matter. While pet owners can take these matters to the Judge, it is best to decide the matter of pet custody and visitation outside of the courtroom as it may save fees and also affords greater options to the parties.