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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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