The most cherished “property” in many family households is not really thought of them as property at all, yet pets are, in fact, property. However, there is good news for pet owners in Illinois. While dogs, cats, and other pets were once considered nothing more than either non-marital property or marital property and custody was never an option, this is no longer the case. In 2018, the law was changed, giving judges the ability to grant custody of pets to their owners during a divorce. As such, a judge may grant sole or joint custody of a dog, cat, guinea pig, or other animal in contested divorce cases when the two parties are unable to come to an agreement. A joint custody decision might outline who gets the pet on which days, weeks, or months, while a sole custody decision would give full ownership responsibilities and rights to a single spouse.
The Law Only Applies to Marital Asset Pets
Nonmarital property is all property that a spouse had before marriage. This includes bank accounts, real property, automobiles, furniture, stocks, and more. Anything that was owned before the marriage papers were signed is nonmarital property, while just about everything owned or acquired during the marriage is considered marital property, except in a few cases such as inheritance, gifts that were given specifically to one party, and some civil lawsuit awards. With this in mind, was your dog or cat acquired during or before marriage? If a pet is acquired during marriage, it is considered marital property and a judge can assign custody. If the pet was acquired before marriage and is not marital property, whoever purchased the pet is the legal owner. Many pets are acquired during the relationship but before marriage, and determining who the rightful owner is can be challenging.
The Well-Being of Companion Animals Is Taken Into Account When Deciding Custody
According to 750 ILCS 5/503, Illinois courts have the authority to grant sole or joint custody of “companion animals” that are also marital assets. In determining custody, the court “shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal. As such, custodial decisions for marital asset pets can be decided in a similar fashion as custody for children. A judge may pose some of the following questions to get an idea of who the pets primary caretaker is and which party will be able to provide for the pet’s needs....