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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.

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