As family law attorneys, we have seen people fight over all manner of marital assets during a divorce. Fighting over the house, the car, or Grandma’s prized china is bad enough, but when companion animals are involved? Things can get downright ugly.
Until a few years ago, companion animals – our pets – were treated as “marital property.” However, if you own a dog, a cat, birds or other furry, feathered or scaly friends, you know that our companion animals are members of the family. And for those without kids, they may BE the only family someone has once the marriage has ended. Long and short, pets are much more than property. And yet, our pets aren’t quite “children” under the eyes of Illinois law.
Over the last few years, lawmakers set out to clarify how companion animals should be treated in cases of divorce. The result was an addition to Chapter 750, Act 5, section 503 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. According to this addition, 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…” 750 ILCS 5/503(n). In other words, while pets are still TECHNICALLY defined as property by the courts, the courts have developed a “hybrid” model for dealing with companion animals in divorce proceedings.
To a certain extent, companion animals are also still treated as “marital property,” and the same factors used to determine who would get the house or the car are generally used. However, after the addition of the above provision to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the courts will ALSO apply a “best interest” of the companion animal standard – similar to that used in child custody cases – when determining which party will be awarded the family pet. Courts can now consider a variety of factors, such as living environment, size of the animal, and income of the parties, to name a few, before awarding “custody” of the family pet to one party or the other. An experienced family law attorney can help answer questions related to ALL members of your family – whether on two legs or four!
If you are considering divorce – with companion animals or without – the experienced family law attorneys at Arteaga Law can help you navigate through this process to ensure that you do not miss out on your fair share of the marital estate as determined by Illinois law. Consultations are always free – contact our office today at (224) 655-7179 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours!
(Thank you to our attorney Christine Janis for providing the above image of her pets, Dasher and Pearl, standing guard at the entrance of their home)