Pets Aren't Property: Pet Custody and Illinois Family Law
The idea that a pet is just property is outmoded, as people of course consider their pets members of the family. So what happens in the event of a divorce? Who gets custody of the family pets? Prior to 2018, Illinois courts treated pets as marital property that was apportioned to one party only, with no recourse or access for the other party. Since January 1, 2018, though, pets are treated more like children, and judges are instructed to consider what is in the best interests of the pet in determining where Fido should live. Either party in a divorce case may now petition for sole or shared custody of a pet—if that pet was acquired by both parties during the marriage. Service animals and any pet that was brought into the marriage by one party are exempt from this statute. In any case where a decision regarding pet custody needs to be made, judges are instructed to take into account which party has acted as the primary caretaker for the animal(s) and to consider the overall best interests of the animal(s). Joint custody arrangements, or visitation schedules, may even be considered where appropriate. The vast majority of divorcing couples are able to hash out the terms of where the pets will live without a court battle, but in the very rare cases where this fight does end up in court, Illinois judges have the ability to treat pets as family members—not property.