As we kick off the beginning of 2018, so does a new law in Illinois that will now take the well-being of pets into consideration in divorce proceedings. While once treated like property, this new law will now treat pets more like children. So, what does this new law mean for pet owners in Illinois?

It’s time to start pampering your pets. Effective as of January 1, 2018, pursuant to Section 750 ILCS 5/503(n) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”), the courts will now allow either party in a divorce proceeding to petition for sole or joint possession of and responsibility for his or her companion animal. Judges will now be required to take into consideration the well-being of all companion animals in divorce proceedings.

Under this new law, courts will do their best to determine which spouse is the primary caretaker of the pet. In doing so, the court may look at which spouse feeds the pet, walks the pet, takes the pet to its veterinary appointments, and which spouse makes arrangements for the pet when traveling out of town. Thus, if you are fighting for the court to award you possession and responsibility of your pet in your divorce proceeding, it may be a good idea to start noting all the wonderful gestures you do for your pet on a daily basis. This will put you in a better position to obtain ownership or possession of your companion animal in your divorce proceeding.

While this new law no longer treats pets as property and rather seems to really appreciate the unique value of companion animals, one question still looms. Will the courts consider your animal a “companion animal?”

The IMDMA is vague as to what animals courts will define as “companion animals.” Under the statute, “companion animal” means an animal that is commonly considered to be, or is considered by the owner to be, a pet. “Companion animal” includes, but is not limited to, canines, felines, and equines. 510 ILCS 70/2.01a. While it may be clear that a dog or cat will be considered a “companion animal,” what about a teacup pig, or pet rattlesnake? How far will the courts go in interpreting the definition of a “companion animal?”

Only time will tell, but it is clear that 2018 will be one for the pets.

by Alysa Feld