Now a Dog Can Have His Day in Court: New Pet Custody Law in Illinois is Effective January 1, 2018!

A couple kissing their pet dog

Today marks the first day where divorcing couples can now petition Illinois courts for custody of their pets! Public Act 100-0042 is effective as of January 1, 2018, which amends the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) to award ownership of, and responsibilities for, any companion (service animals not included) animal a couple may own.

This means that couples can fight for ownership of any animal: dogs, cats, fish, and reptiles included.

Sections 452, 501, 502, and 503 reflect the changes. The most prominent areas where the change will affect couples is in Section 501 – which allows you to petition the court for temporary relief while your divorce is still pending – and Section 503 – which is the section governing the permanent allocation of ownership and responsibilities after the divorce is finalized.

In any proceeding, the judge must take the “well-being of the companion animal” into consideration. Below, we discuss the pros and cons of this change, which comes to Illinois well before other states have made any similar changes!

Benefits of the New Pet Custody Law 

The pros to the new pet custody law in Illinois greatly outweigh any potential cons. After all, the vast majority of people look at their pets as a member of the family, not another piece of property to divide.

Before, lawyers could do little to help clients who wanted to keep a pet but were arguing with their spouse about who should get the dog. And, because there were no laws about the issue, couples were generally left to decide amongst themselves who would keep the pet. Now, because the court must consider the well-being of the pet, it’s more likely that the spouse who has taken care of the pet will be awarded ownership.

Of course, many couples may be willing to share ownership, which is another option under the law! Much like how couples share responsibilities for their children, you can now decide to split time with your pet as well! Doing so is typically the fairest option, as it’s rare that only one individual has taken full responsibility for the pet during the entire relationship.

Your divorce attorney in Naperville will help you navigate how the new law works, and help you work out a settlement with your spouse that works for both you and your pet!

Drawbacks of the New Pet Custody Law

As is the case with any new law, there are drawbacks worth mentioning. Although it’s worth mentioning that in the case of the new Illinois pet custody law, there are far fewer drawbacks to mention than there are benefits.

One drawback is that pet custody adds a layer of complication to a case that wouldn’t be there otherwise. For example, if you don’t have any children, but have pets that you and your spouse are both attached to, the issues in a case are no longer just financial. This can increase the cost of your divorce if you and your spouse are struggling to reach an agreement. While it’s unlikely that the issue will erupt into a full-blown pet custody battle, it’s still possible.

On another level, judges are hesitant to intervene in the division of personal property. Now, charged with the responsibility to account for the “well-being” of a pet they know relatively little about, the allocation of ownership and responsibilities can be deemed a bit arbitrary. But, as judges are forced to make decisions, lawyers will better understand how they are likely to decide the issue and advise their clients accordingly.

The New Pet Custody Law is a Positive Change for Illinois 

As a state that was late to change child support calculations to the income shares model, it’s refreshing to see Illinois ahead of the curve on this issue.

If you’re curious to learn more about how pet custody works, Lawrence R. Surinak Ltd. can help! With over 37 years of experience in Illinois divorce, and an in-depth knowledge of the new pet custody law, Larry is happy to offer his advice and counsel on this issue and others in your DuPage, Kendall, Kane, or Will County divorce!

Contact Larry today at 630-470-9990 for your free consultation! Or, fill out our online form and we will contact you within 48 hours to set up a time for you to come into our office for your consultation. We look forward to speaking with you soon!

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