We Love Our Pets . . .
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), pet ownership in the U.S. has more than tripled from the 1970s, when approximately 67 million households had pets, to 2012, when there were 164 million people were pet owners. In 2012, 62 percent of American households had at least one pet. That same year, according to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent more than $50 billion on their cherished cats, dogs, and other assorted animal companions.
During the last several years, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers surveyed divorce lawyers from many different states and discovered an increasing number of pet custody cases happening in the legal system. In their most recent survey in 2014, 27% of AAML respondents said that they have noticed an upswing in these kinds of cases in the past five years. In addition, 22% of the attorneys have said that courts are allowing pet custody cases and 20% cited an increase in divorce courts deeming pets as an asset.
"While pet custody cases are not an everyday occurrence, far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip. This tactic is usually not effective and can come back to ‘bite’ the antagonist throughout the divorce process.” said Maria AAML president Maria Cognetti. “When it comes to a pet, it is often obvious which of the spouses has the strongest emotional bond.”
But Most States Consider Them the Same as Property;
These statistics prove that many pet owners consider their pets to be part of the family. But in most courts in this country, including the state of Ohio, pets are simply viewed the same as a television, speedboat or baseball card collection—as property. Ohio statutes even directly address the issue. “Any dog… shall be considered as personal property and have all the rights and privileges and be subject to like restraints as other livestock” (ORC §955.03). This means that the courts in Ohio will usually treat household pets like any other personal property and not like child custody cases. Therefore, chances that you will get pet visitation rights formally awarded by an Ohio Court is very unlikely.
But pet owners shouldn’t despair. Many domestic relations judges are pet owners themselves and therefore are sensitive to the importance of pet ownership. They will patiently consider the facts to determine pet custody. On the other hand, some judges can be impatient and will tell counsel to “flip a coin” over the situation of pet custody to determine ownership. Since it is often hard to figure out how the judge may react, scheduling a private mediation with an attorney to determine pet custody or to come to some sort of pet custody agreement is a good option to consider.
What is Best for Your Pet?
If you feel that your pet to be an important member of the family, then you also need to consider what is best for your dog or cat as well. It’s important to remember how pets will react going back and forth between two different residences. Dogs are usually more flexible than cats, who will often suffer behavioral or stress related problems if made to shuttle back and forth between homes. If there is only one pet, another option is for the person keeping the pet to help the other party with the cost of acquiring a new one.
Do you have more than one pet? Then determining pet custody can be easier. If the pets can be easily separated then it makes sense for each of you to take one.
What the Court Will Look at While Determining Pet Custody
If a couple ending a relationship is unable to come to a decision in private or with a lawyer, what is the court likely to do? A court will usually look at several factors when determining pet custody in a divorce proceeding, the main one being who spent the most time taking care of the pet. If both parties shared care equally, the court often looks at the following factors:
- Who bought the pet?
- Who took the pet to the vet?
- Who paid the veterinarian and insurance bills for the pet?
- Which person purchased pet supplies such as toys, food, litter, etc.?
- Who fed the pet on a daily basis?
- Who had the main responsibility for brushing, washing and trimming the pet?
- Did either party pay for any special training?
- Who walked the pet and cleaned up after it?
- Who bonded with the pet the most?
- Who has the financial means to take care of the pet over its lifetime?
- Has either one of you neglected the pet or abused it in any other way?
- If you work, is your job flexible enough to allow you to take of the pet or are you able to find a person who will do so?
- Will the dog live someplace where there is enough room to exercise and play?
One of the most import things to consider in a pet custody agreement is if you are dealing with both children and pets. When kids are involved, the pet should remain in the household where the child spends most of his or her time. Divorce can be hard enough for children to deal with. To have the family pet taken away as well will only cause more problems.
Prepare Ahead of Time by Having a Pet Custody Agreement
An important thing to remember when buying or adopting a pet as a couple is coming to an agreement how the pet care responsibilities will be divided and how these responsibilities will be affected in the event of a break-up. A signed agreement can not only provide incentive not to litigate and but may also prevent the future heartache of losing custody of your beloved animal in court. Many judges don’t like to handle pet custody disputes. You will make his or her job easier by having a signed and written agreement about your pet, and it can help your case as well. Although a written pet custody agreement could be overruled by a court or tossed out completely, pre existing written agreements are often given considerable weight in legal proceedings and could help reduce conflict during a pet custody dispute.
Need an experienced attorney to help you solve a pet custody dispute? Contact the Jack’s law office at (740) 369-7567.
Jack W. Carney-DeBord is licensed and admitted to the practice law in the State of Ohio-ONLY. Jack has no intention of soliciting clients in any state other than Ohio and nothing posted on this website should be viewed as any attempt to solicit or do business in ANY state other than the State of Ohio.
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