24thMar 2018

As of January 1, 2018, the court can consider the well-being of pets and award joint or sole ownership and responsibility to the parties in a divorce.  Pets are considered property in a divorce.  They fall under 750 ILCS 5/503(n).  The court can determine ownership and responsibility on a temporary basis pursuant to 750 ILCS 5/501.

Marital Asset

The law only applies to marital pets.  That means acquired during the marriage.  This could be a gray area for couples who got the pet together before they were married.

Companion Animals

The statute refers to pets as “companion animals”.  There is not a definition of companion animal, but the law does specifically exclude service animals.  The presumption is that the service animal belongs to the person being served.  Moreover, there is no limit on the type of pet.  This law can apply to dogs, cats, birds etc.  One issue that may need to be sorted out by the appeals courts is animals that produce food, but sometimes also have sentimental value for the family like goats or chickens.  Another interesting issue might be a valuable show horse that is loved by the children.  Are these types of animals companion animals or assets?


There is not a lot of guidance in the language of the law for judges to know how to determine what constitutes the well-being of the animal.  Factors will need to be developed by the courts.  One might surmise that the court will look at the history of who has taken care of the pet and the children’s relationship with the pet.  Another factor may be who has the resources to provide the best care for the pet.

Sole or Joint Ownership and Responsibility

Furthermore, the law gives the judge the authority to award the pet to one party or to both.  This could mean an equal time sharing or a visitation schedule such as every other weekend with one party.  Parties who share responsibility for a pet will have to work together to make decisions for the pet and share expenses such as vet bills and training.  What if after a divorce, one party is not taking proper care of the animal?  The court can enforce its order by perhaps holding that party in contempt.  Can the court modify its order?  Generally, property awards cannot be modified.  This may cause some conundrums in the courts.

Contact us if you are facing a divorce where pet custody will be an issue.  We have the knowledge and experience to vigorously fight for you.

Content contained on this site is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. You should consult an attorney of your choosing to discuss your particular case and to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.