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Divorce and Separation: Who gets to keep the family pet?

Conflicts over a pet can be just as serious to divorcing spouses or separating couples as any other issue. Many couples consider their pet to be a family member or child and it can be difficult to come to a mutual agreement about which person should keep the pet. Unlike real children, for which specific laws about custody and visitation exist, pet custody issues have been largely ignored by domestic relations and civil laws.

In Ohio, pets are considered to be personal property like your chair or toaster oven. Thus, when couples are dividing their property due to divorce or separation, courts usually follow the same guidelines they use to determine who gets to keep personal property when deciding issues about pet custody.

Pet Parenting/Custody Agreements

Coming to an agreement about pet custody and visitation can help to avoid unnecessary litigation costs and stress. A “pet parenting plan” allows couples to make joint decisions about custody, visitation rights, who pays for pet expenses (vet bills, grooming), etc. A pet parenting plan is a formalized contract, and can even be incorporated into dissolution or divorce agreements.

Court Intervention

In the event that the parties cannot come to an agreement, parties can seek to have a court decide issues related to pet custody. Some courts are becoming more open-minded and taking into consideration factors that can help them reach a determination about where a pet will live. In some states, courts have awarded shared custody or visitation rights after reviewing evidence and testimony provided by the pet’s owners and expert witnesses regarding what is in the pet’s best long term interest.

However, it is important to note that courts have no specific power to take into account the pet’s best interests since pets are considered “property.” Reaching an agreement out of court nearly always results in a better outcome for pets and their people.

For more information, contact our offices in Fairlawn and Sharon Center at (877) 239-4480. We help clients resolve animal custody disputes throughout northeast Ohio.

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How is Dissolution Different from Divorce in Ohio?

In the state of Ohio, you can end your marriage in one of two ways–divorce or dissolution.

Divorce

When parties cannot agree to resolve issues such as division of marital assets or debts, child custody/support, or spousal support (alimony), a divorce takes place. This process is adversarial. In order to obtain a divorce, one party must allege that their spouse has been at fault under one of the statutory grounds. Those grounds are:
-adultery;
-willful absence for more than one year;
-one spouse was already married at the time of their marriage to the second spouse (bigamy);
-extreme cruelty;
-habitual drunkenness;
-gross neglect of duty;
-fraudulent contract; and
-imprisonment of the other spouse.

The only true “no fault” grounds for divorce are:
-living separate and apart for one year without interruption and without cohabitation; and
-incompatibility that is not denied by either party.

The divorce process begins when one party files a complaint for divorce. A party may also file motions for restraining order and financial, health, and custody affidavits with the court. The complaint for divorce and accompanying documents are formally served upon the other party. Thereafter, a hearing to obtain an interim or temporary order may take place to settle financial issues while the divorce is proceeding, discovery is conducted to gather relevant information regarding the issues in the case, and pretrial conferences are held to discuss the case with the judge.

In Ohio, divorce cases are either settled by agreement of the parties or tried before a judge or magistrate. The court may resolve any issues that the parties cannot settle between themselves. In any event, a divorce cannot be granted until at least 6 weeks have passed from service of the complaint.

Marital Dissolution

On the other hand, a dissolution occurs when the parties are able to reach an agreement resolving all issues (parental rights, visitation, child support, spousal support, division of property, payment of debts, and payment of attorney fees, etc.). A dissolution helps parties to eliminate much of the divorce process and expense and, unlike a divorce, fault grounds are not at issue. This process is non-adversarial in nature, but still requires court approval.

A joint dissolution petition is not filed with the court until the parties have reached an agreement. While the parties are negotiating, the parties must voluntarily trade information. When an agreement is reached, the dissolution petition is filed with the court. A hearing will then occur, during which both parties must appear and testify that they are satisfied with the agreement; that they have made full disclosure of all assets and liabilities; that they have voluntarily signed the agreement; and that they both want the marriage dissolved. The court will decide whether to approve the parties’ agreement.

If the parties cannot resolve all the issues between them and still wish to terminate their marriage, one spouse will need to file for divorce instead of filing the joint dissolution petition. At any time before the court has granted a decree of dissolution of marriage, either party may convert the case into a divorce case.

The end result of both a divorce and a dissolution of marriage is the same: the marriage is terminated.

For more information, contact our offices in Fairlawn and Sharon Center at (877) 239-4480. We represent clients terminating their marriages throughout northeast Ohio.

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Man convicted of possession of cockfighting birds, tools

State v. Filimon Medina, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA.

Defendant was found guilty of two first degree misdemeanor charges for possession of criminal tools. The “criminal tools” were 29 roosters with their combs and waddles surgically removed, medications, vitamins, rooster boxing muffs and other items linking Mr. Medina to cockfighting. 

Defendant faces up to 180 days in jail for each count. Sentencing will be set before Judge Dale Chase for another date.

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Cleveland cockfighter Carlos Diaz to serve six months in jail

State v. Carlos Diaz, a case we prosecuted for the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

Diaz kept 15 roosters and hens in a filthy, sewage-filled basement. A number of the birds had untreated injuries, were underweight, or were otherwise ill. Food for the birds was scattered amongst the sewage, and no clean water was available.

Diaz admitted that he was training the roosters to fight. He further admitted that he sold and shipped the birds to Puerto Rico where they would be fought.

When the APL’s humane agents responded to Diaz’s residence, they found a fighting pen, where feathers were on the floor of the pen and blood was splattered on the walls. In addition, they found other items consistent with cockfighting: a timer, 3 pairs of rubber sparring pads, medications, performance-enhancing vitamins, salves, and syringes. Five pairs of spurs, razor-sharp knife-like devices strapped to roosters’ legs for causing damage to their opponent, were found wrapped in bloody adhesive tape (pictured here).

Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive, and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public, and is known to facilitate other crimes, such as illegal gambling, drug abuse and sales, and firearms offenses.

In 2008, Diaz was found guilty of illegal fights between animals under ORC 959.15, a fourth degree misdemeanor. His punishment was a $250.00 fine and court costs.

Diaz plead to and was found guilty of 11 counts related to cockfighting, animal cruelty/neglect, and possessing criminal tools.

Under a separate case number, Diaz plead no contest to an additional violation of the city’s urban farming law in relation to this case.

Judge Adrine sentenced Diaz to serve 6 months in jail, with an additional 1200 days suspended. Diaz must pay costs and complete 5 years of active probation, during which time he cannot possess any animals and must allow random inspections by the APL.

The birds were all rehabilitated.

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Wadsworth dog owner convicted of neglect

State v. Joseph Gatz, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA.

Joseph Gatz pled guilty to one count of companion animal neglect regarding his dog “Evander” who had a severe skin condition and was ultimately euthanized. 

Gatz was sentenced by Judge McIlvaine to 30 days in jail, suspended, and was placed on probation for one year. He must complete 48 hours of community service, was fined $100 and must pay restitution to the SPCA in the amount of $442.60. He was also ordered not to own a pet of any kind for 5 years.

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Cat hoarder in Brunswick, Ohio

State v. Kelli Drake, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA. Drake was found guilty of two counts of companion animal cruelty regarding 46 cats (all black) kept in her home. The cats were infested with fleas, severe flea allergies, hair loss, dermatitis, tapeworms, and FIV. All animals were surrendered to the SPCA.

Drake is prohibited from keeping any animals for four years, must submit to random inspections, and must complete a mental health assessment, and follow up with recommended treatment. If she violates these conditions, she is facing 180 days in jail.

Holland & Muirden, Attorneys at Law's photo.
Holland & Muirden, Attorneys at Law's photo.
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“Hollywood Bob” to serve 360 days in jail for animal neglect

Robert Konst, a.k.a. “Hollywood Bob,” to serve 360 days in jail for animal neglect. This is a case we prosecuted for the Geauga County Humane Society.

Konst was found guilty of 12 counts of companion animal cruelty relating to 72 cats in June. The animals were living in severe filth, many suffering from a variety of ailments, including skin conditions and ruptured eyes. 

Judge Terri Stupica of the Chardon sentenced him to four 90 day sentences, all of which ran consecutively, for a total of 360 days, but suspended those days so long as he successfully completed probation. 

He was arrested just a few weeks after being sentenced for violating his probation. Judge Stupica was not persuaded by the excuses he offered in court, and ordered Konst to serve the entire 360 days in jail. We are grateful to Judge Stupica for her firm hand in this serious animal cruelty case, and to the Geauga County Humane Society for bringing this matter to the court’s attention.

HollywoodBob

 

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Defendant who put cat in an oven serves jail time

State v. Randy Atkinson, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA.

Atkinson was convicted of animal cruelty for placing a cat in an oven back in 2010. The cat’s paws were singed, but it survived without severe harm. He was put on probation for 5 years, which included a prohibition against keeping animals.

Atkinson was recently arrested on other criminal charges which were not animal-related. Judge McIlvaine of the Wadsworth Municipal Court today imposed the full 90 day jail term, and also 90 days for a current theft charge. Atkinson will spend the next 6 months in jail.

 

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Marysville judge sends horse abuser to jail

State v. Lisa Gilliam, a case we prosecuted for the Animal Cruelty Taskforce, the county humane society serving Union County, Ohio.

Gilliam pled guilty to animal cruelty regarding two horses which were starved, and ultimately euthanized due to their poor condition. Four other counts were dropped to secure her plea. One of the success stories is Poco, pictured here.

Judge Grisby of the Marysville Municipal Court told the defendant that she is a “childish, careless, cruel person.” Gilliam was taken immediately to serve 20 days in jail, leaving another 160 days which may be imposed if Gilliam violates the terms of probation over the next five years. 

During this time, Gilliam is prohibited from keeping animals of any kind, must submit to random inspections, and must obtain a mental health assessment. She was fined $1200, $600 of which is suspended. She must also pay $1000 to the rescue organizations who helped care for the surviving horses.

Many thanks to the Animal Cruelty Taskforce (ACT) for their excellent work on this case.
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Dog groomer and former breeder convicted of animal neglect in Medina County

State v. Barbara Fogl, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA.

Fogl was charged with multiple counts of neglect related to her care of 16 animals, including cats and Saluki, Afghan, and Lowchen breed dogs.

The animals were kept in deplorable conditions. A strong odor of feces and urine could be detected when standing outside of the home. Many of the dogs were kept in makeshift kennels, where they rested on concrete floors covered in filthy newspaper and other debris. The Afghan and Saluki breed dogs were in the worst condition. Those dogs had grooming issues, were underweight, and had untreated tumors and/or other veterinary conditions.

Fogl is a groomer and former breeder, who allegedly became overwhelmed by her own health conditions.

As part of a plea agreement, Fogl pleaded no contest to 3 counts of animal cruelty.

She is not permitted to own or keep any animals, other than two family dogs which were spayed as part of the agreement, for a period of 5 years. She was ordered to pay $600 in fines and $5,980.30 in restitution for the care of the animals. She is also subject to random, unannounced inspections to ensure the humane treatment of the remaining two animals in her care.

The animals have all recovered.

 
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