Effective January 1, 2018, Illinois residents involved in divorce proceedings can now formally ask their divorce court judge to award them “custody” of their pets. This new, ground-breaking legislation became law as Public Act 100-0422. The full text of the law can be found at www.ilga.gov, but enactment of the law creates a major new right for all divorcing pet owners.

Previously, Illinois considered pets as property, and it was not possible to seek “custody” of a beloved family pet in a divorce.

PA 100-0422 now requires a divorce judge to award one party or the other possession of and responsibility for the family pet or pets based upon a careful consideration of the animal’s “well-being.”

There are, of course, several requirements that must be met before a request for possession and responsibility for your pet must be decided by the Court based upon the animal’s well-being. First of all, the law broadly applies to all “companion animals,” not just the family dog or cat.

The new statute expansively defines a “companion animal” by only excluding service animals from the law’s reach. Service animals are animals trained to assist persons with a disability, so the new law applies broadly to any type of pet or animal companion.

Secondly, the animal in question is required to be a marital asset, essentially meaning that the animal was acquired after the marriage of the parties. Many animals may have documentary ownership or breeding documents in the name of one party or the other; however, the only requirement to seek possession and responsibility is that the animal be an asset of the marriage. If the pet is an asset of the marriage, the Court must allocate possession and responsibility upon request of a party, and that allocation must be based upon the court’s consideration of the animal’s well-being.

The new law also has a provision that will allow divorcing parties to enter into agreements as to possession of and responsibility for family pets, granting the Court authority to enter temporary orders for the temporary possession of and responsibility for companion animals while the divorce is pending.

This exciting new law represents a quantum leap forward in the law and provides welcome comfort to pet and animal owners who find themselves enmeshed in a divorce. As pet owners, the partners of Weiler & Lengle understand the important place our pets hold in our families and hearts. We are here to answer your questions and assist you in securing the best possible outcome for you, your children, and now your animal kingdom family members as well.

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Timothy E. Weiler concentrates his practice in family law and is a frequent author and lecturer to lawyers on family law topics. Most recently he presented to lawyers on Illinois’ new child support law. He can be reached by calling 630-587-5600 or emailing tweiler@weilerlengle.com.