Animals have a special place in our hearts, but they may also have financial value. In some cases, they are a significant investment. Under Ohio law there is no such thing as pet custody or animal custody. All animals, from dogs and cats to horses and livestock, are considered property and are subject to the same rules of property division as a car, house or any other property.
Like other property, animals may be classified as separate property or marital property. Separate property is that obtained prior to the marriage. This property may be protected from property division, so if you have a horse you purchased in full prior to the marriage it may be protected. Marital property is that obtained all or in part during the marriage and is subject to division. Classifying animal properly is a critical step, as is valuing that property, which can be complex for some animals.
What Happens To Dogs, Cats And Household Pets?
Spouses have the opportunity to reach an agreement about who will get the household pet. If there are children involved and they are close to the pet, it may make sense for the pet to stay where the child stays. If one spouse has a closer relationship with a pet and is the one who feeds it, walks it and cares for it, that spouse may want to trade another asset to keep the pet. The typical household pet’s value is primarily emotional. However, that is not always the case.
Purebred dogs and cats can be worth a few thousand dollars. Show dogs and cats can be worth tens of thousands or more. A dog with a chance of winning the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show or a cat who competes in the CFA International Cat Show is going to be worth much more than other pets, and it will be important to get an accurate value of such an animal before beginning negotiations.
Divorce With Horses
While the average healthy trail horse may be worth a few thousand dollars, a show horse or racehorse may cost tens of thousands of dollars and increase in value if successful. High quality horses can sell for millions of dollars. In fact, the most expensive horse, Fusaichi Pegasus, sold for about $70 million in 2000. These are not insignificant investments and may be worth more than what some people pay for houses. When you factor in the value of equipment, it becomes even more clear that this asset cannot be overlooked in a divorce and it is critical to work with an attorney who understands its value.
Divorce With Farm Animals And Livestock
As hobby farming is increasing, division of livestock and farm animals is becoming a more common aspect of divorce in Ohio. From a flock of backyard chickens to a larger operation with sheep, goats, pigs, cows, alpacas or other livestock, everything will need to be looked at during the divorce process. While typical farm animals are worth no more than a few thousand dollars each, more and more hobby farmers are raising heritage breeds that may hold greater value. Some may even be rare or endangered. Some may be brought to shows, further increasing their value. Altogether, the animals at a hobby farm may be worth quite a bit, and that is in addition to the value of equipment and farm real estate.
How Exotic Pets Are Handled In A Divorce
Ohio’s exotic animal law was only enacted in 2012, and it allowed people who owned exotic animals prior to keep their animals provided they met certain requirements. Further, the law does not ban all exotic pets. For example, Ohioans can still own lemurs, sloths and other uncommon animals. Some people own one unusual pet while other build private zoos with exotic animals. When these people divorce, these hard-to-get animals need to be taken into consideration. There are safety issues that need to be taken into consideration when determining who keeps such pets in a divorce, but these animals may also have substantial value which needs to be accounted for during property division.
If you own high-value animals it is important that you enlist a lawyer who understands the nuances of characterizing, valuing and dividing these unique assets.