Many Illinois couples consider their pets akin to children and forge deep bonds with them. When they decide to divorce, however, they may run into a particularly difficult situation, especially if their marriage ends on a contentious note. Traditional laws regarding divorce considered pets to be property like any inanimate object, such as the marital home or cars. Unlike child custody rulings, pet allocation was considered simply a matter of property division. Updated laws have introduced some changes in how companion animals are dealt with during a divorce.

Like other states around the country, Illinois has adopted a new law, 750 ILCS 5/452-502, that views pets differently than other forms of property. – Judges in family court may deal differently with pet ownership than with other items. For example, judges may direct joint ownership of a pet, with both spouses to negotiate how that joint ownership would operate in practice. The parties must execute a written agreement regarding the allocation of the animal similar to an Allocation Judgment for minor children. The law also addresses responsibility for the pet as well as ownership, directing courts to consider the animal’s well-being when making a decision.

Up to 80% of people consider their pets part of their family, and up to 65% of households nationwide have companion animals. Some couples may decide that, due to employment obligations or lifestyle needs, it is better for one party to keep their pets, but others may work out a plan for shared ownership that keeps both in their beloved animals’ lives for many years to come. Parties often consider having the pet “travel” with the children when the parties arrange parenting time.

Couples who both want to stay involved with their pets after divorce may have a number of issues to consider. A family law attorney with experience in these matters may help a client to reach a fair agreement.