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An Increasingly Common Custody Issue – Who Gets the Family Dog?

An Increasingly Common Custody Issue – Who Gets the Family Dog?
August 13, 2016 Shannon Dawes
Factors Ohio Family Law Judges Consider When Fashioning “Dog Custody” Orders

While people often have many concerns when entering into a divorce in Ohio, custody of the family dog might not be the first issue to come to mind. However, a growing number of divorces in Ohio and across the U.S. involve significant conflict about where the family pet will live. If you are a cat or dog lover, you might want to consider whether you are willing to part with your family pet because a bitter “custody dispute” over the family pooch can be stressful and costly. Although many pet owners treat their dog, cat, horse, or another pet like a child, our Columbus Family Law Lawyers explain that this issue is resolved far differently than child custody matters.

Regardless of the love that pet owners have for their dog or cat, Ohio law treats pets as property. The best option in many cases involves both spouses reaching an amicable agreement regarding “custody” of family pets. One solution might be to split up the pets if each spouse has a preference. Another approach might be to have a pet stay with the parent who has the children a majority of the time. Divorcing couples can even agree to “share custody” by allowing the dog to move back and forth between the parties on an agreed upon schedule.

Factors Ohio Family Law Judges Consider When Fashioning “Dog Custody” Orders

If an agreement cannot be reached, the judge will decide the residence of the family pet based on property division principles. The judge will consider evidence responsive to questions like the ones below:

  • Was the dog owned by a party before the marriage?
  • Which spouse provided the majority of care for the dog?
  • Which spouse paid to purchase the dog?

While the family law judge is aware that the family dog or another pet is a living thing that is beloved, the law still treats the pet as “property” to be distributed to the parties. If the parties are unable to agree regarding the possession of pets, the judge might order that the “pets travel with the children,” so kids are never separated from Fido or Snowball. Even in the absence of children, the court might craft an order that permits both spouses to spend time with the pet after the divorce. However, the court will investigate and consider the relationship of the spouses to determine if they can cooperate and interact in a constructive way. If the spouses are involved in a contentious divorce that involves a high degree of conflict and animosity, the judge will usually award the dog to only one of the parties.

Evidence to Gather in “Custody Dispute” Over Fido

If you were the spouse that purchased or adopted your pet, you should provide the court with documentation establishing that you were the party who obtained the family pet. Even if you did not purchase or adopt your pet, you could still present evidence supporting a decision to allow the family dog to live with you. Documents that show participation in dog grooming, licensing records, vet bills and records, grooming receipts, dog food, treats, and behavior training classes all can help establish that you were the primary caregiver for the pet. If friends or neighbors observed you acting as the caregiver for your animal by taking it on walks or providing other care, you might want to have witnesses confirm your relationship and interaction with the pet.

Shannon Dawes, our Columbus divorce lawyer at Dawes Legal, LLC, understands that you might have fears and concerns about divorce, so we focus on providing clear and timely explanations of your legal rights and options. We invite you to call us today at 614-733-9999 for your free consultation.