By Attorney Megan DeDoncker
Pet ownership skyrocketed during the global Covid-19 pandemic, with nearly 1 in 5 households adopting a new cat or dog. While many households grew by four paws during the pandemic, relationship conflict and divorce inquiries were also on the rise. As pet owners know, pets aren't just pets, they're members of the family. So, what happens when two pet parents go their separate ways?
Should pets be classified as just property under the law or treated more like children? Those of us with furry friends know the correct answer. Luckily, if you're a pet owner in Illinois, the law agrees with you. Illinois Courts can assist in determining temporary and permanent possession of a companion animal under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”).
A “companion animal” is any animal that is not considered a “service animal,” which is “trained in obedience and task skills to meet the needs of a person with a disability.” Typically, simple designation of a pet as one party's “emotional support” animal, when the pet does not have further specialized training is not enough to designate the pet as a “service animal” under the statute.
When determining possession of a companion animal that was adopted during a marriage, Courts look to the well-being of the companion animal to determine whether sole or joint possession is appropriate. Each case is fact dependent with Courts looking at factors such as the ability of the parties to communicate, logistical concerns, and practicality.
If you have questions relating to divorce and pet custody, please do not hesitate to reach out to CTM Legal Group to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law team members.
 The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Press Release: New ASPCA Survey Shows Overwhelming Majority of Dogs and Cats Acquired During the Pandemic Are Still in Their Homes, May 26, 2021, https://www.aspca.org/about-us/press-releases/new-aspca-survey-shows-overwhelming-majority-dogs-and-cats-acquired-during#:~:text=NEW%20YORK%20%E2%80%93%20The%20ASPCA%C2%AE,would%20account%20for%20approximately%2023.
 Holly Ellyatt, CNBC, January 21, 2022, Arguing with your partner over Covid? You're not alone, with the pandemic straining many relationships, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/21/covid-has-put-pressures-and-strains-on-relationships.html.
 See 750 ILCS 5/501(f) and 750 ILCS 5/503(n).
 510 ILCS 70/2.01(c).
 See 750 ILCS 5/501(f).