Illinois pet owners often do not consider their pets to be mere items of personal property. Many consider their furry friends to be like family – almost like children. Yet traditionally, pets such as dogs and cats have been regarded as items of personal property. This means in a divorce situation, judges were not encouraged to consider the best interests of the pet in making the decision as to which spouse gets to keep it. In a few cases, judges ordered the sale of a pet as if it were a house or a car.

A few states have passed laws to change this, however, and Illinois is one of these states. Last year, the state legislature passed a law that empowers judges to consider the best interest of the pet in making the decision as to who gets it.

Many lawyers have hailed this new law. David Schaffer, a family law attorney in Naperville, is one of these. A self-described dog person, Schaffer predicts that the law will discourage divorcing spouses from using the family pet as a weapon to hurt the other spouse. As he told a reporter recently, “It can stop a spouse from hurting the other person through the pet.”

There have been concerns expressed about the new law, however. Some are afraid that divorce cases will get bogged down in the complex issues of who gets custody of a pet. Acknowledging this concern, the new law allows but does not require judges to consider the best interest of the pet. Furthermore, service animals are exempt from the best interest provision. As attorney Schaffer puts it, “If they were yours, they remain yours.”

Pets are valued and loved members of many Naperville families. This new law should help spouses, lawyers and judges reach arrangements that meet the needs of pets and their human family members.