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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.


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:
-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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