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Pets Are More Than Property in Illinois Divorce

Posted on in Property Division

Pets Are More Than Property in Illinois DivorceMarried couples think of pets as being more like family members than property. For a couple without children, a dog or cat could fill the role of a child in a family. However, Illinois divorce law once considered pets to be marital properties more on the level of inanimate objects. A new law enacted at the beginning of 2018 changed that assumption so that pets are treated more like children. Illinois courts now recognize pet custody agreements and consider the well-being of the pet when determining which party will keep it.

Classifying Pets

The law still defines pets as assets but says that a divorce court can award sole or joint ownership of and responsibility for a pet from a marriage. To determine whether the law applies to your pet, you must answer two questions:

  • Is your pet a marital or non-marital property?; and
  • Is your pet a companion animal or service animal?

When you first got the pet can determine whether it is a marital property. A pet may be a non-marital property if one of you owned the pet before the marriage. If you got the pet during your marriage, then it is most likely a marital property. A service animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, will stay with the spouse that it is meant to assist. The law does not define a companion animal, but it is assumed in this case to be any pet that is not a service animal.

Pet Well-Being

Illinois divorcees often determine ownership of their marital pets outside of court. The new law instructs courts to consider the well-being of the pet when approving a pet custody agreement or creating one of its own. A pet’s well-being may include which person:

  • Is better capable of caring for the pet;
  • Can provide a better living environment;
  • Will be able to spend more time with the pet; and
  • Generally took responsibility for the pet during the marriage.

While joint pet custody is an option, pet owners and the courts must decide whether transporting the pet between two homes is healthy for the animal.

Determining Pet Ownership

Pet custody can be a contentious battle between spouses who both have an emotional attachment to the animal. Often, only one spouse gets to own a pet after a divorce. A McHenry County divorce attorney at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, can help you present evidence of why you should be your pet’s primary owner. Schedule a free consultation by calling 815-338-3838.



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