Emotions are probably already running high in a typical Illinois divorce before a couple starts to discuss the family’s pets. In some situations, the animal may have already expressed a preference for one spouse over the other. However, in the past, a pet’s wishes have not been considered in divorce court unless the spouses themselves have thought about it and come to an agreement on their own. Sadly, the result of a judge’s decision could mean emotional difficulties for the animal as well as the humans who love it.
Illinois legislators have recently acknowledged that treating pets as marital property in a divorce can have a poor outcome on animals’ well-being. Since Jan. 1, a new law has made it possible for judges to consider the best interest of a pet instead of assigning its ownership to one spouse or the other based on its perceived monetary value.
Pet custody allows for joint ownership, with the spouses sharing custody. Like Alaska, Illinois will not allow joint ownership of a service animal. However, any pet that would have been considered a marital asset may now be treated like the family member that it is for so many couples.
Just as disagreements over parenting plans and child custody can spark court battles, refusal to cooperate for the best interest of a pet could lead to litigation, as well. Couples who have questions about how the new pet custody laws may be applied in their circumstances may benefit from the advice of an attorney.
Source: Chicago Tribune, “New state law treats pets more like children in custody cases,” Leonor Vivanco-Prengaman, Dec. 25, 2017