Starting in 2018, pets in Illinois are treated more like family, and less like property in divorce cases.
A new Illinois law that treats pets more like family took effect in January 2018, giving judges more leeway in determining pet custody on a case-by-case basis. Judges can now consider the well-being of pets during divorce proceedings, and allocate sole or joint ownership depending on the case.
As more couples have children later, or not at all, pets become a bigger part of the family. When both spouses are attached to a pet, it can be heart-wrenching to lose ownership during divorce. The new Illinois law gives more leeway in deciding the pet’s future, rather than choosing one owner over the other. Like with children, pet owners can now have joint custody, or ownership, over the pet. This can be healthier for both the people and the animal.
“Most pet owners know that their animals are more than a piece of property — they’re a member of their family,” said Mike Schiffman, a family attorney at Schiffman Family Law. “The new law in Illinois will better reflect that reality.”
How the Law Works
The law was sponsored by state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) who said she wanted pets to be treated more like family. She told the Chicago Tribune that pets have feelings and emotions. “If you’re going before a judge, they’re allowed to take the best interest of the animal into consideration,” she said.
Under the new law, each spouse will need to detail why they would be the best suited party to keep the pet.
“Who does the day-to-day stuff? Who buys the pet food? Who stays on top of vaccinations?” Erika Wyatt, a divorce attorney and animal rights advocate said to WQAD. “Anything that happens in the normal care for the pet is going to become relevant now.”
After hearing both sides, the judge chooses one party for sole ownership or can grant joint custody. The law does not apply to service animals.
Before 2018, pets were treated like property and divided between divorcing couples as part of the value of the estate. In most cases, pet custody is determined outside of court. A study from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that one-third of their lawyers said couples were more likely to settle pet ownership disputes outside of court.
Though pet custody court cases have gone down in recent years, the new law makes existing and future cases simpler. Alaska was the first state to change its pet custody divorce laws, and Illinois followed its example to give judges more say.
If you’re going through a divorce and wondering how to best represent yourself to gain sole or joint custody of your pet, work with an experienced Illinois attorney to ensure the judge has all information available and can make the best decision for both you and Fido. The team at Schiffman Family Law is well-versed in Illinois pet custody law, and understands the importance of these decisions. Contact the Chicago area’s number one pet-friendly law firm today for a free 1-hour consultation.