What Happens to my Pet During my Divorce?
In the United States, 38.4% of households own at least one dog and 25.4% own at least one cat, amounting to a total of 76.8 million pet dogs and 58.4 pet cats.  Notwithstanding the significance and strength of the emotional bond between humans and their four-legged family members, until recently, courts across the country unanimously treated companion animals the same as they treated a dining room table. For instance, when our beloved two-legged family members tragically lose their lives in an accident, we can sue the party responsible for wrongful death and collect damages for, among other things, emotional injury. In contrast, when our often equally beloved four-legged family members are injured or killed at the hands of another, most jurisdictions limit damages to the “market value” of the animal. In limiting damages to the “market value” of the animal, courts completely overlook the emotional connection between humans and their pets.
Unfortunately, the legal system’s minimization of the role pets play in modern society doesn’t stop at damage awards for personal injury or death of a pet. Even family courts have historically refused to treat “man’s best friend” any differently than a vehicle or a piece of furniture. However, Illinois is currently one of the three U.S. states spearheading the movement to amend divorce statutes to allow courts to “treat pets more as family members than as mere chattel to be divided by couples, like sofas and TV’s.” Until recently, in Illinois, companion animals of divorcing couples were allocated or “divided” in the same fashion as other personal property. However, on January 1, 2018, an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act became effective. The 2018 amendment empowers courts to:
“allocate sole or joint ownership of and responsibility for a companion animal of the parties. In issuing an order under this subsection, the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal.” 
The 2018 amendment’s reference to the “well-being” of the companion animal is reminiscent of the “best interests” standard that is used in child custody cases. However, given the novelty of this approach across the country, there is scant case law to guide courts in making custody/possession determinations for companion animals. Accordingly, Illinois courts will soon have to grapple with some of the following dilemmas: (1) how to apply the new statutory provisions as written, and whether they are modifiable; (2) whether to employ “pet GALs” or pet experts; and (3) how to address the financial care and support of the pet in light of allocation of responsibilities for the pet.
Please contact the experienced Family Law attorneys at Bruning & Associates, P.C. at 815-455-3000 to schedule your complimentary consultation to discuss your pets during your divorce case.
 “U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics.” American Veterinary Medical Association, 2018. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/reports-statistics/us-pet-ownership-statistics.
 Chan, Melissa. “Pets Are Part of Our Families. Now They’re Part of Divorces.” Time. Time, January 22, 2020. https://time.com/5763775/pet-custody-divorce-laws-dogs/.
 750 ILCS 5/501(f) and 750 ILCS 5/503(n).
 Laura Baldwin & Sean McCumber, And They Call It Puppy Love: Pet Custody in Illinois, 31 DCBA Brief 8, 10 (2018)