Pet Custody and What It Means in Illinois

Some people consider their pets as children. So it makes sense that when parties with a pet are getting divorced, emotions rise when deciding who can keep the pet and who has a right to see the pet. With the newly formulated law in Illinois, parties getting divorced may now petition the court for possession and “visitation” of pets.

Section 5/501(f) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act states that either party in a divorce action may petition the court for temporary allocation of sole or joint possession of and responsibility for a companion animal jointly owned by the parties. “Companion animal” includes essentially any pet not considered a service animal as defined in Section 2.01c of the Humane Care for Animals Act.

One will notice that the statute does not use the words “best interests” as is used when referring to allocation of parental responsibilities for children. However, it does state that the Court is concerned for the “well-being” of the pet. A pet is no longer a piece of property but treated more so like a child. The Court is now looking to see who has continuously provided care and time for the companion animal.

So what should you do if you find yourself fighting for rights to your pet with your spouse? Start gathering ownership/adoption/registration papers. You will want to establish who has primarily taken care of the animal such as taking the animal to the vet and arranging for pet care. Essentially you should maintain any records you have to show that you have been the primary caregiver, just as if you would for a child.


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