Oftentimes in the stress of a divorce proceeding, a key member of the family is overlooked: a beloved pet. As of January 1, 2018, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act was amended to give the courts additional guidance when considering furry – or sometimes not so furry – friends. This amended law specifically applies to companion animals, not service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Either spouse may now file a petition for temporary allocation of sole or joint possession of a companion animal. If the court finds the companion animal is a marital asset, which is most common if it was acquired during the marriage, then the court considers the animal’s well-being and allocates ownership and responsibility for the animal.
Clients may now specifically allocate responsibility for major decisions, as well as parenting time, for their companion animal in their final divorce documents. For decision-making, this may include provisions related to making major medical decisions for the animal including choice of veterinarian or choice of elective surgery. For parenting time, pet owners may now also allocate routine parenting time, vacation time and circumstances for relocating with a pet.
When taking into account these new considerations, you may also want to think about adding provisions related to contribution to veterinary costs and routine expenses including grooming, dog walking and medications.
Each pet and family are different, so it is important for parties to discuss particularities regarding a given animal so that the final provisions are catered to the uniqueness of a pet. This may be that a pet cat has anxiety and cannot be transported in a crate, or that a pet puppy has to be transported to doggy day care during the day.
Firm attorney Stephanie Tang recently spoke about the new possibilities for protecting pets in divorce proceedings at the International Society of Family Law North American Regional Conference with Senator Linda Holmes and House Representative Stephanie Kifowit, two of the primary drafters and proponents of the Senate Bill amending the prior statute.
Kogut & Wilson can provide guidance and support on all types of family law matters, including negotiating provisions related to your pet. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our attorneys to help you protect the well-being and happiness of you and your pet after your divorce.