For many people, pets are more than just animals. They are loved members of the family. So, what happens to pets when couples divorce?
Currently in Illinois, pets or “companion animals” are treated as personal property in dissolution proceedings. If parties are unable to come to an agreement, then the court will want to know facts that relate to the parties’ financial interests. Who originally purchased the companion animal or paid the adoption fee? Who paid the veterinary bills? Who buys the companion animal’s supplies and food? As of January 1, 2018, companion animals in Illinois will be treated more like family members. A new divorce law will go into effect on that date. With the new law, parties will be able to enter into an agreement allocating sole or joint ownership and responsibility of a jointly owned companion animal.
If a dispute arises regarding the companion animal, either party will be able to petition the court for the temporary allocation of possession and responsibility of the companion animal.
If the court determines that the companion animal is a marital asset, then the court will decide allocation of ownership and responsibility of the companion animal. In deciding who the companion animal will live with, the court will take into consideration the companion animal’s well-being. The new law is valuable for companion animals in Illinois, as they will no longer be treated as property, such as vehicles, furniture, appliances, etc.
The court will want to know who takes care of the companion animal. Who feeds the animal, changes their water, takes the animal for walks, etc.? What do the parties do for a living? Does their employment involve travel or are they home on a regular basis? These types of questions will be relevant as of January 1, 2018.
Disputes over pets can be highly contested issues, it is best to speak to an experienced attorney if you have any questions.