Dec. 25 (UPI) -- Illinois couples getting a divorce will have to prove to a judge who's the better owner to win custody of their pets after a new law goes into effect on Jan. 1.
"It sort of starts treating your animal more like children" instead of property, Illinois state Sen. Linda Holmes, who sponsored the legislation, told the Chicago Tribune. "If you're going before a judge, they're allowed to take the best interest of the animal into consideration."
While pets were previously treated more like property when the judge decided who gets what out of the divorce, former spouses who can't agree on who should get custody of the pet will have to prove who does more of the animal's care-taking.
"Who does the day-to-day stuff? Who buys the pet food? Who stays on top of vaccinations?" Divorce attorney and animal rights advocate Erika Wyatt told the Illinois News Network. "Anything that happens in the normal care for the pet is going to become relevant now."
Family law attorney Jeffrey Knipmeyer said custody disputes over pets has become more common over the past 10 years as two-income couples with no children become more common and attachment to the pets is more significant. And the new law allows a legal framework for arrangements like joint custody.
"It's a positive step in the law to include now a consideration for the well-being of the animal," he said. "Most pet owners think of their dogs as being something more than a piece of property. They think of them as a member of their family."
Earlier this year, Alaska became the first state in the country to enact legislation that requires divorce courts to take "into consideration the well-being of the animal" and decide custody disputes," according to the Washington Post.
"Our pets are members of our families," former Alaska State Rep. Liz Vazquez said at the time of the bill's passage. "We have to remember that we're sent here to Juneau to represent people; real human beings, many of whom have pets they love as much as their friends and family."