Who Retains Custody Of The Family Pet In A Divorce?
Many people consider their pets an integral part of their family. When two people divorce, the fight over the family pet can often turn into a bitter battle. In response to these feelings towards pets, a growing number of states have enacted statutes providing for the custody of the family pet.
Traditionally, courts have treated pets as a form of a chattel. The Ohio Revised Code § 955.03 follows the traditional view stating that a dog “shall be considered as personal property”. This treatment as personal property results in the “custody” of the household pets to be determined during the division of marital property. If the parties to a divorce are unable to agree as to who will retain ownership of the pet, the court is likely to determine who the pet goes to just like any other item of personal property. Many people have found this treatment of pets to be cold. Notwithstanding the fact that pets are treated as personal property, a court has wide discretion when making a division of marital property. A court may consider a number of factors such as who paid for the pet, who was the primary caretaker, and who paid the expenses for the pet.
Acknowledging the tensions between the traditional legal perception of pets as personal property and the modern treatment of pets as members of the family, several states have developed laws providing for the inclusion of household pets in custody orders. This number has continued to increase throughout recent years. Proponents of change in the laws regarding “pet custody” issues suggest looking at the best interests of the pet, much like courts award custody of children. This reflects the modern view of pets being considered a part of the family.
In addition to custody disputes, 22 states (plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico), have enacted statutes with provisions for Domestic Violence Protection Orders for pets. These legislative enactments further showcase how significant a pet is in the lives of many. Ohio does not currently have such a statute.
Though the trend in a growing number of states appears to reflect the modern view that pets are considered a part of the family, Ohio does not currently provide legislative provisions for the inclusion of pets in a custody order or domestic violence protection order. As the law in Ohio stands, pets are considered personal property and accounted for during property division. Of course, we will keep you posted on any developments in this area of law.
Pet Custody Disputes in Ohio
To learn more about “pet custody” litigation in Ohio, please click on this link to a previous article on this topic posted on The Ohio Family Law Blog from February of 2012. It contains some detailed information on factors the Court would likely consider in determining ownership of the pet.
Special thanks to law clerk Emily Wagoner for her research and help writing this blog article!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.