Once upon a time, Illinois courts treated pets just like any other piece of property in divorce and gave family animals to one side or the other. However, that all changed in January of this year, when lawmakers decided that judges who preside over divorce cases can take into consideration the welfare of companion animals when determining "pet custody."
According to a Chicago Tribune news report, Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, a self-proclaimed animal lover, sponsored the legislation. Her rationale was that judges should treat animals more like children in divorce cases. Illinois gained inspiration for this legislation from Alaska, which has a similar law.
If you are like many Illinois residents, you may think that pet custody is yet another issue that couples will have to hash out in court. Though it is true that more people than ever before treat their furry friends as children, most divorcing couples are able to reach an agreement regarding pets outside of court. According to one practicing family law attorney with more than 20 years of experience, Illinois courts have only had to try to issue a few times. In fact, about 30 percent of lawyers have seen a reduction in the number of pet custody cases in recent years.
That said, if a pet custody case does end up in front of a judge, the new legislation is helpful in giving judges direction on how to proceed. Per the law, judges must take into consideration a pet's best interests before assigning joint or sole custody.
The information in this post should not be construed as legal advice. It is for purely educational purposes.