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Illinois Courts Must Take Pet Well-Being into Account in Divorce

Effective January 1, Illinois is the first state to require judges to consider the welfare of family pets when determining who gets what after a divorce. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act ("IMDMA") now provides that the court "shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal." 750 ILCS 5/503(n) (emphasis added).

As Alicia Hill Ruiz observes in the November 2017 ISBA Animal Law newsletter, this is consistent with Illinois' ranking by the Animal Legal Defense Fund as best guardian of animal welfare in its U.S. Animal Protection Law Rankings. But while it's a victory for animal rights, lawyers might understandably be worried that it will add "one more opportunity for conflict, chaos, and cost to their caseloads/dockets," she writes.

"Now, in addition to depositions and filings related to the best interests of the children, comes the prospect of testimony about Max and Tiger," Ruiz writes. "For the embattled and beleaguered professionals working these cases, there is the very real possibility that [arguments and evidence about the welfare of pets] will be met with hostility or derision or simply ignored."

Ruiz anticipates that experts in animal behavior will be enlisted to help make placement decisions, though "practical and procedural challenges about how to most effectively use this expertise will have to be addressed." She also notes that some two-thirds of American families own pets and nearly one half (60.2 million households) own dogs, so "we can assume that dogs will be involved in many of the cases that will be litigated under the IMDMA." Find out more.

Posted on January 31, 2018 by Mark S. Mathewson
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Member Comments (5)

Presumably, the court will have discretion to appoint a GAL for the animal and to require the animal to submit to psychological evaluation.

Will the dog whisperer be able to pass mustard under the Daubert standard? 

Frequently, in divorce matters handled outside litigation through Alternative Dispute Resolution models, like Collaborative Process and Mediation, provisions with regard to the care of, and even the support of, the family pet are negotiated with great success.  Resolution of this kind of issue provides the soon-to-be-divorced-couple with an opportunity to see that they are capable of finding common ground, no matter how small.  

Animals are vulnerable scientent beings most often brought into the family knowingly and willingly by their owners (sadly, less so sometimes for their children).  The appropriate placement and care of such beings should not be the source of added conflict or result in more work for "embattled and beleagured"  lawyers who, in an system with upward of 95% of all cases being resolved by Martial Settlement Agreement prior to trial, are apparently already working at a high levels to help clients effectivley solve and dispose of family-related matters.  If the professionals are "embattled and belagured" it might be time for them to take a time out and ask their client wanting to "fight over Fido"  if his/her time and money might not be a better to spend - i.e. going to the rescue shettle and obtaining another vulnerable scientent being needing care and attention!    

   

I hope you will read the full article.

I actually had a case years ago where we negotiated dog support. But it was an amicable divorce, and the allocation of the pet reflected both the needs and resources of the parties and the well-being of the dog.

In most cases, the divorcing spouses figure out the pet issue with little or no involvement by lawyers. In those case where the new law opens an avenue for courtroom drama, chances are the spouses would have found something else to fight over in the absence of this law.

Though pets remain "property," the well-being of property does seem relevant. What if one spouse had a collection of rare Lincoln memorabilia and the other could care less about Lincoln but wanted the collection out of spite?  Would it not be int he public interest to allocate the Lincoln memorabilia to the spouse who actually cared about it so these items would be preserved?

Whether pets, artwork, or anything else, a common sense standard should apply. This new law gives the judge a means to justify the application of common sense.