Courts recognize the well-being of animal companions

Pet parents in Illinois cherish their animal companions as family members. Since 2018, Illinois law has allowed divorce courts to approve pet arrangements similar to shared custody 750 ILCS 5/452-502. The law directs judges to take a pet’s welfare into account in deciding custody.

The state recognizes that animals have thoughts and feelings that distinguish them from the furniture or electronics that may be the subject of division in a divorce. While pets remain classified as property, judges may determine whether a pet is a marital asset and then decide the appropriateness of sole or joint custody, taking into account the animal’s “well-being” as well as what’s in the family – and particularly, the children’s best interest

A pet’s well-being includes its state of mind

The Illinois State Bar Association suggests guidelines to help judges decide how to determine pet custody, focusing on evidence that speaks to an animal’s psychological wellness. The ISBA interviewed a canine behaviorist to examine how the parties can establish well-being for dogs.

Experts have observed dogs in their home environments to learn how they think and communicate. Evidence suggests that dogs like to be “psychologically balanced” and are more likely to thrive in settings that allow this balance.

Dogs’ needs may vary depending on breed. For example, some breeds place a greater value on relationships with humans and blend as part of the family. These dogs may fare better after a divorce by spending most of their time with the caregiver who would provide regular, nurturing interactions. In contrast, other breeds may prefer a home with room to run and exercise regularly in a more aloof setting.

Some dog breeds may adapt to joint custody arrangements, while others may experience anxiety moving between homes.