Property Considerations for Unmarried Partners

Can Someone Sue You If Your Dog Jumps on Them

By: Madison Mackay


Thinking about moving in with your significant other and getting a pet together? Consider a few things.


In recent years, our office has experienced a string of cases involving romantic partners living together, unmarried, and then breaking up. The law has carved out a special court of equity for the ending of a marriage, known as the Domestic Relations Court. This court considers the equitable distribution of assets and custody of children, if applicable, upon the termination of a marriage. Unfortunately, there is no equitable court for the termination of a relationship without marriage, and the distribution of assets and legal rights becomes much messier.


A common theme we have seen is one partner purchases and owns a home, titled solely to him/her, and the other partner lives there contributing to the household expenses and mortgage. Upon termination of the relationship, the homeowner is left with gained equity in the property and the “renter” partner is left without equity to show for payments made. Absent an explicit contract between the two parties, it becomes difficult and complicated to sort out in a court of law who is entitled to what. Most of it hinges on the intent of the parties, the expressed agreement between the parties, and each party’s understanding of that agreement. Although it seems less than romantic, it is best practice to draft a lease agreement and explicitly outline the terms of your cohabitation with your partner including the intent of the parties, what the renting partner is contributing to, and what they will be entitled to should the relationship end, if anything at all.


Another significant part of a romantic relationship involves gift giving. Under Ohio law, generally entitlement to most gifts given in a romantic relationship will remain with the receiver upon termination of the relationship. This, however, does not apply to gifts given in contemplation of marriage. The quintessential example of this “conditional gift” is an engagement ring. The gift of the engagement ring is conditioned upon the eventual marriage. Should that marriage never happen, the giver is entitled to the return of the ring.


Lastly, another common theme we have seen is couples cohabitating and getting pets together. Under Ohio law, pets are chattel or personal property, and courts generally will not order “shared custody” as one would see with children. Many have often heard the phrase “possession is nine tenths of the law,” but in Ohio, that is not true when it comes to pets.


R.C. 955.11(B) effectuates the transfer of ownership of dogs, which states, in part: upon the transfer of ownership of any dog, the seller of the dog shall give the buyer a transfer of ownership certificate that shall be signed by the seller. The certificate shall contain the registration number of the dog, the name of the seller, and a brief description of the dog. Absent this ownership certificate, Ohio courts have held that possession of a dog does not establish ownership and neither does registration of the dog for State licensing purposes. Again, this is another area where it is prudent to explicitly delineate ownership and follow the proper procedures to avoid conflicting claims to the pet in the future.


In sum, if you are planning to move in with a significant other or get a pet together, it is best practice to draft clear agreements as to the ownership and interest in the real property (house) and the personal property (furniture, pets, etc.). Discuss these things in advance with your partner to save yourself potentially thousands of dollars in legal fees later.


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the Tyack Law Firm Co., L.P.A., or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel or representation on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, county, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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