When you are contemplating divorce, you may have concerns regarding the custody of the family pet. Sometimes both spouses have a close relationship with the family pet and wish to keep the pet following divorce or it may be a situation where one spouse is using the pet as a pawn to negotiate a more favorable settlement without regard for the animal.
Until recently, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) has been silent on the matter other than to allocate pets as personal property in a divorce to be divided just as you would any other marital property. Of course, negotiating who gets the car or how retirement accounts will be divided can hardly compare to the emotional decision of who will get to keep the family pet. Looking at a dog or cat as merely an asset does not always result in a good outcome for the pet.
Fortunately, Illinois law has come around. On August 25, 2017, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law, Public Act 100-0422, which makes provisions in the IMDMA for the allocation of possession and responsibility for companion animals jointly owned by parties in a divorce. To the relief of many, the law will direct the Illinois Legislature to take into account the well-being of pets in a divorce effective January 1, 2018.
The act does not go so far as to use words such as “custody” or “best interests”, but will instead, consider the ‘well-being’ of the pets (aka companion animals) as part of the division of marital assets.
If you are expecting an uphill battle regarding possession of the family pet in a divorce, get ready. You should gather any documentation such as ownership/adoption papers and registrations indicating which spouse acquired the pet. To show that you are the primary care giver, you may also include evidence that you are responsible for taking the pet to the veterinarian, the one who makes arrangements for pet care when you are out of town, or other evidence of your devotion to your pet.
Many couples that divorce with pets can attest to the fact that deciding who gets to keep the pet can be difficult and heart wrenching. After all, pets are truly a member of the family, with attachments running both ways. If you think the ownership or possession of your companion animal will be contested in your divorce, you should seek an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable in family law and raise the issue early to best position your case for ownership in the dispute.
Contact an Experienced Illinois Pet Custody Attorney
If you have questions regarding what impact the new law may have on Illinois pet custody arrangements in your divorce case or if you are contemplating divorce, have pets and would like more information on your pet custody or property division, contact the Law Offices of Ronald L. Bell for experienced help at 847-495-6000.