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Pet Custody Disputes on the Rise

Let’s face it, Americans love their pets and often treat them as family members. In fact, Americans spend billions of dollars per year spoiling their pets. Conducted by the American Pet Products Association, the following list details the average U.S. pet industry expenditures per year:

Total U.S. Pet Industry Expenditures[1]

Year                 Billions of dollars

2017                 $69.36 (Estimated)
2016                 $66.75 (Actual)
2015                 $60.28
2014                 $58.04
2013                 $55.72
2012                 $53.33
2011                 $50.96
2010                 $48.35

Over the course of the last seven (7) years, Americans have spent an overwhelming amount of money on their pets. Like U.S. pet expenditures, the number of pet custody cases have also increased in the last five (5) years.[2] In a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), dogs “fetched the top spot as the most disputed family animal” in animal custody matters, while cats “scratched to a distant second.”[3]

Often, clients at White Law Office, Co. want to know exactly what will happen to their dogs, or other family pets, in a divorce. As dog owners, we at White Law Office, Co. understand just how important it can be to protect our canine family members during a divorce. Thankfully, Ohio law provides some form of clarity.

Dogs, and other family pets, are traditionally viewed and considered by Ohio courts to be personal property. Ohio Revised Code section 955.03 states, “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).

What does this mean? It means that family pets are treated no different in divorce than ordinary personal property, such as the washer or dryer, and are subject to equitable division under Ohio law. However, an Ohio court may consider several factors in awarding custody of the pet to one party. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to:

  1. When was the pet purchased (prior to the marriage or during the marriage);
  2. Who paid for the pet or was the pet given to one of the parties;
  3. Who does the pet bond with the most;
  4. Who is the primary caretaker of the pet;
  5. Who has the most reasonable living situation to care for the pet (e.- an apartment vs. a home with a fenced in yard);
  6. Who primarily spent money on pet expenditures (e. food, vet bills, or training) and cared for the pet (i.e. walking the pet or cleaning up after the pet);
  7. Does the pet assist or aid one of the parties involved in the domestic relations dispute (e. a hunting dog or a service pet); and,
  8. The wishes of the parties.

 There are options available to couples who want to avoid potential future pet custody disputes. Prior to adopting a family pet, couples may want to consider a prenuptial agreement. outlining pet custody should a domestic relations issue arise. Mediation may also assist couples that are involved in a pet custody dispute by reaching a reasonable alternative that is acceptable to both parties.

We at White Law Office, Co. understand the importance that you and your family members place on pets. If you or a loved one have additional questions regarding pet custody, or how to prevent a pet custody dispute arising in the future involving your pet, please contact the White Law Office, Co. immediately.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice. It is intended to provide broad and general information about the law. Before applying the law discussed herein, please consult with your Attorney or the Attorneys at the White Law Office, Co.





[1] http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp.

[2] American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, “Pet Custody Disputed on the Rise Find Nation’s Top Matrimonial Lawyers – Survey Reveals More Couples Clawing Through Divorce”, Feb. 12, 2014,  http://aaml.org/about-the-academy/press/press-releases/pets/pet-custody-disputed-rise-find-nations-top-matrimonial-l .

[3] Id.

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