Most of the posts on my Illinois Divorce Lawyer Blog concern important topics such as High Conflict Divorce, Parental Alienation, Personality Disorders in Divorce and Child Custody, or subjects involving complex financial issues in divorce. Yet, in the past issues have arisen in a few of my cases where the parties owned together a beloved companion animal, such as a dog or cat. Previously, the Illinois Divorce Act (IMDMA) considered companion animals owned by the parties as property, and normally judges would make no orders concerning animals beyond what might be ordered for furniture and the like. Touching on issues in a high conflict divorce, one of my cases last year did involve one spouse threatening to euthanize the family dog as a coercive threat to the other spouse to not to move out.
For 2018, the IMDMA is being amended as follows, to allow the Court to consider, in a sense, the best interests of a companion animal that is part of a marital estate:
Provides that the parties may petition or move for the allocation of sole or joint ownership of and responsibility for any domestic animals owned by the parties. Provides that in issuing an order concerning the allocation of ownership of or responsibility for a domestic animal, the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the domestic animal. Provides that the parties may provide for the allocation of ownership of or responsibility for a domestic animal by agreement.
Replaces everything after the enacting clause with the provisions of Senate Amendment No. 1 and Senate Amendment No. 2, and provides that: (1) the parties may move for a temporary allocation of sole or joint possession (instead of “ownership”) of and responsibility for a companion animal jointly owned (instead of “owned”) by the parties; and (2) limits the circumstances under which the court shall allocate ownership of and responsibility for a companion animal to situations in which the court finds that the animal is a marital asset.
Just as children can be involved as pawns by a disordered spouse in an effort to control, manipulate, alienate from, or harm the other spouse (and the children), a companion animal has been, in my experience in at least a few cases through the years, involved as well. The above new statute, signed into law in late 2017 and effective January 1, 2018, allows the Court to determine the best interests of a marital companion animal and award possession to the appropriate party, or the parties jointly.