In a divorce, Minnesota law currently considers a family pet to be personal property for purposes of property division and does not consider any emotional attachment either party may have to the pet (for more information on how Minnesota Family Law currently addresses family pets, read a previously posted blog here). Although this may seem to be a harsh approach for those who consider their pet to be part of the family, this is currently how most states deal with a family pet during a divorce proceeding.
A recently enacted provision in Illinois law may indicate that change is on the horizon for how Courts determine “pet custody” during a divorce proceeding. Effective January 1, 2018, Illinois courts must take the well-being of a family pet into account when determining ownership of the animal. This change also allows the Court to award joint ownership of the animal to both parties, rather than solely to one party.
This change appears to treat animals more akin to children rather than property, as it considers the best interest of the pet, rather than the somewhat clinical “just and equitable” property division standard. Notably, the new Illinois law does not apply to service animals.
Although this law does not directly impact Minnesota law, it may lead to a shift in how other legislatures address the issue and, perhaps, be the start of a new trend in family law.