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Pet Custody Matters

In many divorce cases, especially those of older or childless couples, the most important issue in the case can be who will get custody of Buddy, the 8-year old Golden Retriever or Kitty, the 11-year old Maine Coon.

For years, divorce judges who are typically over-taxed with complex emotional and financial issues treated the tug of war over “human’s best friend” as an ancillary issue, and did not spend the necessary time considering the best interests of the pets.

Thankfully, times and the law have changed. According to a new Illinois law effective January 1, 2018, the court can consider the well-being of family pets in determining ownership, parenting time, custody and the division of expenses related to the animal. Now the courts reprioritize how pets will be divided pursuant to a divorce, and take into serious consideration which party should keep the pet moving forward. The new law applies only to family pets or companion pets, and not to service animals.

In many of our cases at Davis Friedman, we have been able to devise creative solutions to ensure both parties, and the minor children, play a vital role in the pet’s life and either have full-ownership of the pet, or frequent “parenting” time as desired. If pet-custody is an issue that you are currently experiencing, please contact us to learn about our unique and creative strategies to approach this matter.

About the New Illinois Pet Custody Law

On January 1, 2018, Illinois will recognize 750 ILCS 5/503(n) as the new law to follow when dealing with the disposition of family pets. Section 5/503 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act is amended as follows: (750 ILCS 5/503) (from Ch. 40, par. 503); Sec. 503. Disposition of property and debts:

(n) 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.

Consider the Well-Being of the Companion Animal

When the court decides what is best for Buddy or Kitty, the Judge will consider the following factors:

  • Throughout the marriage, who was traditionally the primary care-giver for the pet?
  • Which party can provide a strong and comfortable atmosphere for the pet to live?
  • Which party can afford to provide medical care, disease prevention and veterinary treatment?
  • Which party is better equipped to provide for the pet’s well being, including his/her physical and mental needs, exercise, diet, etc.?
  • What are the work schedules of each party?
  • What is the physical and mental health of both parties?
  • Where will the children (if applicable) reside?
  • What is the distance between the homes of the divorcing parties?

Have questions? Contact us about working together.

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