Pet custody now an issue in Illinois divorce

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Divorce proceedings can already be contentious. It can difficult for many parties who are divorcing to reach a comprehensive agreement on all the issues in their case. But now pet custody might add another twist to Illinois divorce.

To get divorced short of a trial, parties have to agree on the divorce itself, property and debt division, custody and parenting time, child support, spousal support and attorney’s fees.

The custody of the pets might now become a more contentious issue in Illinois divorce. Previously, pets were treated no different from any other items of marital property. Just like the house, the cars or another assets, one party would be awarded the pet in a divorce.

But under a new law that has gone into effect in Illinois, the court has the ability to grant “joint” or “sole” custody to a pet. Specifically, under the new law in Section 5/504:

  • If 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.

In some ways, parties who are divorcing may like this change because it will allow both parties to get visitation with the family pet versus one party being simply awarded it as martial property. On the other hand, when parties have to meet and exchange the pet, matters might end up getting quite a bit more complicated.

Take divorce cases for example where there were no children. In these instances, where there was a pet, those divorcing parties might still end up having to have contact with one another even after their divorce to exchange the pet. If the pet later gets sick, they might also get entangled over medical decisions.

Where there were kids in the divorce, not only will the parties have to meet to exchange the children, the family pet will also need to be exchanged if both are to get visitation.

Some will welcome this as positive change because it takes into account the “well-being of the companion animal.” But some would argue that this may make Illinois divorce more complicated or that it will cause parties to be needlessly entangled after a divorce.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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