Illinois Family and Animal Law: “Custody” of Pets

Rincker Law Animal Law, Family/Matrimonial Law Leave a Comment

As of 2018, matrimonial judges can consider the “well-being” of a pet in deciding whether there will be sole or joint ownership.  The new law expands the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”).  Now, 750 ILCS 5/503(n) states that: “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. As used in this Section, “companion animal” does not include a service animal as defined in Section 2.01c of the Humane Care for Animals Act.”

This statute allocates possession of companion animals that are jointly owned by the divorcing parties (a marital asset).  A companion animal is defined under Illinois law as “an animal that is commonly considered to be, or is conserved by the owner to be, a pet. ‘Companion animal,’ includes, but is not limited to canines, felines, and equines.” See 510 ILCS 70/2.01a.

This new provision of the IMDMA is significant because pets are very important to people, especially with couples with two incomes that do not have children.  The new law also illustrates a change from treating pets as property to treating them closer to children.

The judges will take in to account the following factors when deciding “pet custody” in a divorce:

  • Who owns the pet/who adopted the pet
  • Who pays for the pet’s needs
  • Who takes care of the pet
  • Who walks the pet
  • Who takes the pet to the veterinarian
  • The relationship of each party with the pet

Thus, it is imperative that divorcing couples with pets keep as many accurate records as to the pet’s ownership/adoption, as well as the pet’s care.

Since this law is new and not many states have this type of law, the need for an experienced attorney is more important than ever.  This added marital asset adds a new layer to the divorce negotiation or divorce trial and it is important to understand how the factors play into a judge’s decision and what documents are necessary to strengthen a case.



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