Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet?

Pets are part of the family. So when a marriage crumbles, it’s not surprising one of the first questions that come up is, “Who gets to keep Fluffy?”

The undeniable emotion connected to our “fur babies” often involves a sentiment level that can be hard to balance in divorce. Many couples do not know where to begin.

Pet Custody Laws in Ohio

Ohio law takes the emotion out of pet custody. The law doesn’t view pets as family members—they are considered property and evaluated financially in terms of fair market value. Essentially, the state of Ohio thinks a pet is legally worth the amount paid for adoption or purchase.

If an unmarried couple separates, the pet is usually awarded to the person who paid the adoption fee. However, if the pet was clearly gifted from one person to another, this could affect the award of pet ownership.

For divorcing couples, the timing of a pet adoption matters. If the pet was purchased during the marriage, they are considered marital property. If purchased before the marriage, they would be separate property.

Judges Take Different Approaches to Pet Custody

Is the judge assigned to your divorce case a pet person? Believe it or not, the judge’s attitude toward pets may make a difference in how pet custody is handled. When a couple can’t decide where the pet should stay, some judges may consider unique pet “custody” arrangements. Some judges have even asked for a courtroom display of a dog’s affection to determine the animal’s best emotional home.

At the other end of the spectrum, judges inclined to view pets as property rather than family may propose ultimatums that seem harsh. In one notorious California case, the judge set a time limit with the understanding that if the couple did not make a decision, the dog would be released into alternative care.

Handling Pet Custody Issues Before They Arise

Holding an uncomfortable but frank discussion early on in a relationship can help to avoid emotional turmoil later. Ideally, couples should determine who should become a pet’s primary caretaker long before divorce is on the table. Pet provisions can be included in a prenuptial agreement. 

Pet custody isn’t only an issue for divorcing couples. Even partners who are unmarried can have a legal cohabitation agreement drawn up. Not only can a legal agreement protect individual assets and finances, but it can also make pet custody easier to navigate when the time comes to go separate ways.

Contact Weis Law Group To Assist in Your Pet Custody Matters in Ohio

If you’re going through a divorce, separation, or the end of a relationship and have questions regarding pet custody, Weis Law Group is here for you.

With over two decades of experience, we are committed to helping you reach solutions that keep every family member, including your beloved pet, safe and secure throughout a divorce or separation.

Our team navigates the legal system with expertise, insight, and compassion. You can count on us to guide you through this difficult time. To get started today, contact our law office to set up a consultation.