Spouses who are divorcing focus on many financial issues such as who gets the marital home, how much alimony should be paid, and how much child support is due. Custody issues revolve around which parent or parents will have legal custody of the children and the terms of the parenting plan. For many spouses, one of the most emotional issues can be who gets to keep the family dog, cat, or other pet.
Even spouses who now hate each other can often agree that the one bond they still have is their love for their jack terrier, cocker spaniel, poodle, or another dog. So, who gets the family dog in a divorce? Are there custody agreements and parenting plans for your beloved Fido, Rover, or Jake?
Dogs are treated as property in Ohio
In Ohio, as much as spouses treat their dogs like humans by walking them, bathing them, and feeding them – not to mention talking to them and buying toys and even clothes for them – our state treats dogs as property. That means that just as you divide your marital home, bank accounts, retirement benefits, and other assets – you can also metaphorically “divide” your dog.
More specifically, a dog is considered “marital” property if the dog was acquired (birthed, bought, given as a gift) during the marriage. The dog is then distributed according to state equitable distribution of property laws. There is one exception. If one spouse acquired the dog or another pet before the date of the marriage, then that spouse has the right to claim the dog. Spouses can also address who gets the dog in a prenuptial agreement.
How does the equitable division of pets work in a Columbus divorce?
Dogs are not divisible assets in the same way as bank accounts or other assets might be. Normally, the spouses will reach an agreement on their own as to which spouse will keep the dog. The decision about which spouse keeps the dog is often based on many practical factors. If the spouses cannot reach an agreement (most spouses do), then the family court judge will be decided which person keeps the dog – a decision judges are generally not comfortable making.
Some of the practical considerations about which spouse keeps the family pet include the following:
- Multiple pets. If there are two pets, then one spouse might keep one pet and the other spouse might keep the other. There is a catch, though. Some pets become bonded to each other. Your dog Rocky may suffer if his companion Zeus lives in another home.
- Who can take care of the dog. A dog needs to be walked, fed, and loved. One may consider having their dog (as much as they love their dog) live with the other spouse if they have more room and time to take care of the dog. Some dogs may need to be tended to by a veterinarian, which may favor the spouse who can more easily take time off to provide medical care.
- Fairness may play a factor. If one spouse paid for the dog and was the person who normally cared for it, then spouses may agree giving custody to the spouse who played a more active role in the dog’s life.
- Many children become attached to their dogs or other pets. Divorce is always hard on children, especially younger ones. Being able to remain with the family pet can help them cope. Parents may decide that the dog should stay in the house where the children are going to spend the most time – ideally the marital home.
- Where the dog is living. Generally, families and courts favor having a dog stay where it can exercise and stay outside for part of the day. This generally favors spouses that have yards and/or are near dog parks.
Spouses should never demand to keep a pet out of spite. Your dog’s feelings matter. He/she never be used as a pawn to settle marital differences. If spouses decide that they cannot agree about who keeps a pet and neither spouse is able to take care of the pet on his/her own, then the spouses might consider giving the pet to some friends or neighbors who love a shaggy friend.
Can couples agree on their own to a custody arrangement for their dog?
Just because Ohio family law treats dogs as physical property, that does not mean spouses cannot enter into their own agreements about when and where the dog stays. When spouses do enter into their own private pet custody agreement, it is best to put it in writing to ensure all parties take the agreement seriously.
Consider the following:
- Which spouse will have the dog or other pet each day of the week?
- Who will have responsibility for taking the animal to the veterinarian? Paying the vet bills?
- Who walks the dog and who pays for the dog’s food and other needs? Generally, in pet custody agreements, each spouse is responsible for the dog during the time they have the dog.
These agreements can be separate from any equitable distribution agreements or made part of the overall divorce agreement. Generally, the Ohio family courts will not enforce a separate agreement or equitable distribution agreement that pertains to pets. These are mainly a matter of trust between the spouses.
Everyone loves their pets. Candidly, it is often telling when your spouse doesn’t want to spend time with a beloved pet. At Soroka & Associates, our Columbus divorce attorneys can negotiate pet custody arrangements. We address all relevant issues such as who will transport the dog from one spouse’s home to another spouse’s home, as well as who is responsible for your pet’s expenses. We work to ensure that your dog isn’t affected by your divorce too harshly. After all, we know dogs have feelings too. To discuss all your equitable distribution concerns including who gets Fido or Mittens, call us at 614-358-6525 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.