Custody of the Family Pet

How Do the Courts View Family Pets?

Although many people may consider the family dog, cat, or beloved iguana to be an important member of the family, pets are not family members in the eyes of Canadian courts. In a married or cohabiting partnership, they are considered the property of one or both spouses. As a result, neither party has the legal authority to request or be granted “custody of” or “access to” a pet.

Pets are not considered jointly owned assets that can be sold, with the profits being divided between parties. Obviously, selling the family pet and splitting the proceeds is rarely a good solution for anyone.



How Do the Courts Decide Who Gets Ownership of the Family Pet?

In determining who gets ownership of a pet among members of a (marital or otherwise) relationship, the courts will look at factors such as:

  •      Who paid for the pet initially? Is there tangible proof of the payment, like a receipt?
  •      Who paid for the veterinary care and daily needs of the pet such as food and grooming?
  •      Whose name is listed as the owner on any licensing or medical paperwork?
  •      Who actually completed the day-to-day tasks associated with caring for the pet such as feeding, grooming and exercise?

When a married couple divorces, their family pet may be included as part of their property. Formerly cohabiting parties may each attempt to prove ownership of the pet through documentation and history. The courts may award ownership based on the needs of a child living with that spouse.

In some cases, neither party to a dispute is in a better position than the other to care for a family pet. In these cases, as a Nova Scotia Small Claims Court judge aptly put it in his 2008 decision:

“As such, slightly distasteful as it may be in the case of two loving and devoted pet owners, I must consider which one has the better property claim.”

Ontario case law on pet ownership is relatively scarce, and results will vary based on the specific circumstances of each separation.



How Does One Prevent Protracted Legal Disputes Over the Family Pet?

Courts are hesitant to allow parties to expend too many resources on determining pet ownership.

Always consider a pet’s future when drafting a separation agreement with a spouse. This agreement could assign ownership of the pet as well as contain terms regarding the pet’s care. It is possible to work out an arrangement where both parties are able to spend time with their pet.

A court may not always recognize the conditions of a property division under a separation agreement.



How to Find Help

If you are divorcing and have pets, seek the advice of a divorce lawyer who specializes in pet custody. Our lawyers can give you independent legal advice on separation agreements before you sign them, and explain how they will affect pet ownership.

Tailor Law Professional Corporation offers a free thirty-minute consultation during which you can speak to a lawyer about your situation. Our family law lawyers are happy to sit down with you and discuss your legal issue. We encourage you to meet with one of us, and we’ll see if we can help. We can talk through your situation, outline your options, and figure out your next steps and the best way to move forward. Give us a call at 905-366-0202 or book online.

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