Pets have always been considered property in the eyes of the law. A new state law, effective January 1, 2018, now allows a judge to determine custody for companion animals within the context of a divorce proceeding. The law, which excludes service animals, was introduced by Democratic Senator Linda Holmes (Aurora) and treats pets like family members rather than property acquired throughout the marriage. This flexibility will be important for divorcing couples with pets and no children. While the evolution of the law presents opportunities to view this development with a sense of humor, this is serious business. Illinois judges can determine what is in the best interest of the animal, much like a child, and award custody to one or both parties along with the responsibility of taking care of the animal.
The previous experience in managing the issue of pet custody was widely handled outside of the courtroom, with only serious disagreements requiring an appearance before a judge. Judges may now see more court activity to discuss child support, spousal maintenance, and pet custody. There is also a possibility that pet custody issues could make their way to a courtroom after the divorce has been settled through post decree matters.
If you or someone you know is considering a divorce, it is imperative to speak with an attorney. Contact our office for high quality representation through all aspects of your divorce, including when issues of pet custody are raised.