Custody of Pets in Divorce
Traditionally, state family law across the country have treated domestic pets in divorce as personal property. For its part, Florida case law has treated pets as property as well (Levine v. Knowles, 197 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 3d DCA 1967)). Florida law also makes no mention of how pets are to be treated in the state’s equitable distribution statute.
As such, it is arguably in a divorcing couple’s best interests to not resolve a pet custody dispute through litigation. Arriving at an agreement regarding pet custody is likely best achieved outside of a Florida courtroom due to the lack of legal guidance on how Florida courts should treat pets in divorce.
For many divorcing couples, however, the concept of viewing pets as property is a decidedly archaic notion that does not properly consider the bonds, loyalty and affection shared between family members and pets. Anyone who feels this way has reason for optimism that the legal tide on pet custody in divorce may be changing, thanks to a new law in Illinois.
Illinois Law Poised to Treat Pets Similarly to Children in Divorce
Florida residents who would like to see pets treated like family members during divorce will be pleased to hear that a new Illinois law aims to take the best interest of the pet into consideration when an Illinois couple divorces.
The new law, which took effect on January 1, 2018, allows Illinois judges to consider the well-being of pets when deciding sole or joint ownership of the pet. Sen. Linda Holmes of Illinois sponsored the legislation, and she noted that this law will help ensure that animals in divorce begin to receive treatment that considers them “more like children”, rather than a mere property interest.
This law applies only to pets that can be viewed as marital assets, which excludes service animals. While the majority of couples are able to come to an agreement on pet custody outside of courts, this decision will be a great help to Illinois couples who find themselves in a contentious divorce that renders them unable to reach any agreement.
This legal development in Illinois puts the state in good company with Alaska, the first state that chose to treat pets more like children in divorce. It remains to be seen whether the Florida legislature will pass a similar bill that considers the well-being of Florida pets in divorce, but these legal developments are a welcome national trend for animal lovers everywhere.
If you have questions regarding a divorce attorney (Tampa, Florida), or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]