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Who gets the dog? Pet custody rules are changing.

People love their pets. Whether you have a dog, cat, guinea pig or other furry creature, chances are you are concerned about what could happen with your pet in divorce.

Ohio law is clear in this regard: Pets are treated as property in divorce cases. The law has been settled in this matter for a long time. But is it as settled as it seems? The same laws were similarly settled in other jurisdictions, yet they are changing rapidly. Could similar changes be coming soon to Ohio?

The Current Law

In Ohio, dogs, cats and other pets are treated like property. They are divided in divorce like you would divide cars, cash, real property and other assets. One person gets it and that is the end of the story. There is no way to fight for “custody rights” or “visitation” over your pets any more than you would get visitation over that old truck you lost in the divorce.

Changes in the Law in Other Jurisdictions

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, new legislation (effective January 1st) categorizes family pets more like children. The law states that, when determining who would get a family pet in a divorce, the ruling judge should consider the best interests of the animal.

This look a lot more like a child custody matter than a simple property division matter. No one considers the best interest of the truck when dividing property. But now judges will be considering what is truly in the animal’s best interest.

It is conceivable that a judge could rule that the best interests of the animal would have to include time with both “parents,” thus coming up with something akin to a visitation schedule.

What Impact Does This New Law Have?

For Ohio residents, there is no real immediate impact. However, this new Illinois law changes the landscape of the issue tremendously for pet owners in divorce, and this could be the sign of a trend that could impact Ohio very soon.

We will keep our eye on the issues to make sure you are up to date. In the meantime, make sure to take good care of your children – and your pets.

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