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Who Gets to Keep the Family Pet After a Divorce?

If you are planning to file for divorce in Ohio or know that your spouse will soon be filing, you may have concerns about who will get to keep the family pet after the divorce. For many couples in Columbus, regardless of whether or not the parties share minor children from the marriage, a family pet is treated like another member of the family. Indeed, according to an article in Time, about 80 percent of Americans who own pets “view their pets as family members.” That article cites a study from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that also emphasizes how many of these family pets, largely cats and dogs, have been adopted from animal shelters or have been taken into homes as stray animals. As many as 65 percent of current households in the U.S. have at least one pet.

What happens when spouses who share a family pet decide to get divorced? Will the parties share custody of a pet like they would of a minor child, or do courts handle pet issues differently? The answer to the question depends on the state in which you are getting divorced. In Ohio, pets are treated like other property in the divorce, but spouses may have options for reaching an agreement about who will get the pet or how they will share time with the animal.

Ohio Law Considers Pets to Be Property

In some states, laws have been passed in recent years that allow for shared pet custody after a divorce. In other words, courts in some states will treat a shared pet in a divorce case similarly to a shared minor child from the marriage. In these circumstances, the court can look at a variety of factors to determine whether one spouse will have full custody of the pet or whether the spouses will share pet custody. There are no pet custody laws in Ohio.

Instead, under Ohio law, pets are considered to be property. According to Ohio law, any dog that is registered as a pet “shall be considered as personal property and have all the rights and privileges and be subject to like restraints as other livestock.”

Pets Will Be Classified as Separate or Marital Property

Given that pets are considered to be property under Ohio law, a divorce court will first need to determine whether the pet should be classified as one spouse’s separate property or should be classified as marital property. If a pet is separate property—if it was adopted or purchased before the date of the marriage, usually—then the spouse for whom the pet is separate property will get to keep the animal after the divorce. However, if the pet is marital property, then the court will need to consider who will get the pet along with other marital assets and debts according to “equitable distribution.” Courts look at a wide variety of factors to determine how marital property is divided between the spouses in an equitable manner.

Spouses Can Reach an Agreement

If a pet is marital property but you do not want to leave the issue up to the court, it is important to know that spouses can reach an agreement about who will keep the pet, or whether the spouses will continue to share ownership of the animal.

Contact Our Divorce Lawyers in Columbus

If you are getting divorced and have concerns about pets from the marriage, you should seek advice from a Columbus divorce lawyer who can help. Contact the Lawrence Law Office today.

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