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What does Illinois’ new divorce law have to say about pets?

If you are an Illinois resident who loves your dog or cat almost as much as you love your children, you will be glad to know that should your marriage ultimately end in divorce, which of you gets custody of your pet(s) can, in fact, be made just as much of an issue as who gets custody of your kids if you and your spouse fail to agree on these issues. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, a new law went into effect in Illinois on January 1 that allows a family law judge to take the well-being of your pets into consideration just like he or she will take the best interests of your children into consideration.

Up until now, pets were considered to be just another piece of property in the overall equitable division of assets between divorcing spouses. While the new law does not raise your pet’s status to that of a human being, it nevertheless recognizes that pets are living creatures whose comfort and welfare are important. Even so, pets remain property under the new law, and whose property they are depends on when and by which spouse they were acquired.

Separate vs. marital property

Naturally, if you have a service dog, that animal is yours and yours alone. Likewise, any pet that you acquired before your marriage is your separate property. If your pet was bought or adopted during your marriage, however, he or she is considered to be marital property, regardless of which of you may have acquired him or her.

In all likelihood, you and your spouse both love your pets and share responsibility for them. If one of you were faced with the possibility of never seeing a beloved pet again, it could be almost as traumatic as the prospect of losing custody of a child. That is what the new Illinois law seeks to address.

Joint pet ownership

Illinois judges now are allowed to grant joint ownership of pets to divorcing spouses in much the same way, and taking into consideration many of the same factors, as is done with regard to joint custody of children. This information is only intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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