New Pet Custody Law Further Protects Pets During Divorce

Pets in Illinois recently gained an extra layer of protection against mistreatment, with help from legislation passed by the state general assembly. Dealing with pet custody, the new law could affect the possession of a beloved dog or cat when two people go through divorce proceedings.

Before jumping into action, however, it’s important to understand the law’s reach and effects.

About the new Illinois pet custody law

The new legal provisions regarding pet custody are in fact a revision of one portion of the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act, Illinois Compiled Statute 510. The law says “nothing shall prohibit a law enforcement officer from taking temporary custody of a dog or cat … that is exposed in a manner that places the dog or cat in a life-threatening situation for a prolonged period of time.”

The law allows police officers to remove any dog or cat from an unsafe environment at their discretion. These include conditions in which the dog or cat is neglected or is subjected to extreme hot or cold environments that could cause hypothermia, overheating or frostbite.

Without consent from the pet’s owner, law enforcement officers can remove a dog or cat and secure emergency veterinary care for the animal. Afterward, the officer would contact the owner or owners, who would be responsible for the cost of emergency care.

Why pet custody law matters during divorce

This updated legislation comes on the heels of another pet-related legal change in Illinois. In early 2018, the state redefined its provisions regarding pets, now referred to within the law as “companion animals.”

With this change, Illinois legislators said that pets are no longer considered property in the context of a divorce dispute. Instead of the pet-as-property approach of “dividing” the animal during divorce, family law judges now instead consider the animal’s best interest when determining which party gets pet custody.

Before pet custody is awarded, however, the cat or dog likely will stay with one of the divorcing parties at the original family home or a new location. In such a tumultuous time, when people often have feelings of depression, anger, spite, and vengeance, animals are at risk of falling victim to neglect or mistreatment.

The revised statute granting law enforcement officers more discretion over removing a pet could change the dynamic of some divorce proceedings. It may allow one divorcing party to report their pet is being subjected to unsafe conditions by the other person, ultimately securing custody for themselves.

Fighting for pet custody in Illinois

Reporting a divorcing spouse for the mistreatment of a mutual pet is a serious accusation that can result in significant punishment. It is an action that should never be taken in spite, out of revenge or in an attempt to gain custody of the dog or cat.

If your separated spouse is in possession of your mutual pet during divorce proceedings and he or she is properly caring for the dog or cat, usually the best idea is to maintain the status quo. As much as it can hurt to be away from your companion animal, it will ultimately damage your case to file a false report or attempt to steal or abscond with the pet.

A family court judge will listen to arguments from both sides about each party’s claim of pet custody. If the pet was removed by law enforcement officers because of neglect or maltreatment, the party responsible surely will be at a great disadvantage in their custody argument.

Fighting for custody of your pet requires a level head, an understanding of the law and a commitment to doing what is best for the dog or cat. If they’re OK with your ex-partner, wait for the final pet custody determination. However, if you believe your pet is being kept in unsafe conditions, the Humane Care for Animals Act revision helps you come to their rescue.

Get help with your pet custody claim during divorce from the compassionate experts at Sterk Family Law Group. We’re pet lovers and we understand the importance of your pet in your life.

Call us today for help with your pet custody matter in and around Orland Park, IL.


This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

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