Until recently, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”) was silent as to specific references to pets and they were often allocated as personal property in a divorce.  However, on August 25, 2017, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law, Public Act 100-0422 (the “Act”), which makes provisions in the IMDMA for the allocation of possession and responsibility for companion animals jointly owned by parties in a divorce proceeding, which becomes effective on January 1, 2018.

So, my first question was, “What exactly is a “companion animal?”  Since the Act exempts service animals as defined under the Humane Care for Animals Act, we shall use their definition which is “an animal that is commonly considered to be, or is conserved by the owner to be, a pet.  Well, that would mean that the Illinois Legislature is now recognizing the unique value of pets to their owners.

While the language still refers to them as “assets” and makes reference to ownership, consideration for the welfare of the animals will now be codified in the statute, which reads, in pertinent part, as follows, “the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal…”  In other words, the court is now required to consider the pet’s “well-being”, which is a significant departure from the way all other property is treated under the law.

Parties who are contemplating divorce in 2018 and beyond should be prepared if possession of the family pet may be contested. Ownership/adoption papers and registrations should be maintained indicating which spouse acquired the pet and also which spouse primarily cared for the pet. Relevant issues to consider may include which spouse takes the pet to veterinary visits, training classes and who makes arrangements for pet care during vacations since that spouse may have an advantage in establishing herself as the primary caretaker of the pet.

Jennifer R. Ward has an undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri – Columbia in Journalism and is the founder of WARD FAMILY LAW, LLC.  Ms. Ward was admitted to the Illinois bar in 2002 and continues to exclusively practice matrimonial and family law in the Chicagoland area.  Additionally, Ms. Ward has been Adjunct Faculty at the John Marshall Law School since 2005 and teaches family law legal drafting to law students in a Legal Writing program that U.S. News and World Report ranked as #5 in the Country.  Ms. Ward also had the honor of speaking at the “Leaving a Long-Term Marriage” workshop produced by The Lilac Tree, an Evanston-based not-for-profit resource for women contemplating divorce.

You can find Jennifer R. Ward, Founder of WARD FAMILY LAW, LLC at www.wardfamilylawchicago.com or you can follow her on Facebook @WardFamilyLaw, Instagram @divorcerer, Google Plus @Wardfamilylawchicago and Twitter @WardFamLawIL