Pet Lovers Rejoice – Pets No Longer Treated Like Toasters in Illinois
Many pet lovers aren’t aware that parties to a divorce may enter into a written agreement allocating ownership of and responsibility for any companion animals owned by the parties. ‘Companion animals” exclude a service animal as defined by the Humane Care for Animals Act. It is important to know this pet custody law applies to divorce cases only and not to what we call parentage or paternity cases (where parties are in a relationship but aren’t married).
Pets are no longer treated as chattel; Illinois recognizes that companion animals are living, breathing beings that deserve the utmost attention, care and affection. Prior to this law, a pet was treated as personal property, like toasters, and awarded to a party typically without any provisions for visitation by the other party, who would pay for the pet’s expenses, whether the pet could be shared by the parties and whether the pet could travel with the children between their parent’s houses. Also, with this law, Judges have the power to allocate the sole or joint ownership of and responsibility for a companion animal considering the well-being of the companion animal when the parties cannot agree.
The great news for pet owners is they can memorialize in writing their agreement in the form of a pet custody agreement addressing ownership of and responsibility for pets, which then makes that agreement enforceable in court. Consequences that can arise where there is no pet custody agreement in place include one spouse demanding the pet out of spite, the family pet could be taken away from the children, pets may need to be put up for adoption after the divorce and pets who grew up together may be separated.
Pet custody agreements are legal documents very much like child custody agreements. The parties to a divorce with a pet have quite a bit of flexibility when carving out an agreement. Pet custody agreements can address who will own the pet after the divorce (sole vs. joint ownership), where the pet will primarily live (custody), how major decisions will be made for the pet (like medical care), who will pay for the pet’s expenses, a visitation schedule for the party not the primary custodial parent and limitations on transfer of ownership of the pet.
If you are a pet owner thinking about or going through a divorce, call Nicholas J. Galasso at 630-949-2061 or access our website at www.GalassoPC.com to schedule a free consultation. Let us help you protect your relationship with your pet and prepare a pet custody agreement that best serves you and your pet.