When you’re considering divorce, there’ll be a lot on your mind. You’ll be thinking about the family home, who the kids will live with and when, and what your future looks like. You’ll also be worried about the family pet (or pets) and what will happen to them. This is a consideration that more of our clients are discussing as part of their divorce as there is a lot of confusion about the law surrounding pets in divorce.
Across Canada, divorce is on the rise following the pandemic. Alongside this, there are more disputes over pets. News outlets are reporting on this as well, from The Guardian in the UK to CBC in Canada, “Who gets Fluffy?”
Who gets custody of a shared pet?
The short answer is: it depends.
Pets are treated differently from children and are classified as property in a divorce. This means that ownership will be taken into account - who paid for the pet when it was purchased. In some court cases, this was the only defining factor.
However, in other court decisions, the relationship between the parties and the pet have been taken into account. You might be the person who does all the caring for the pet, pays the pet bills and spends the most time with them. The courts will also look at which person can dedicate more time to the pet’s care, and whether it is bonded with a human or another animal.
Other factors to consider
Even if you didn’t purchase the pet initially, you might love and treat the pet like your own. This could mean paying for things like vet bills, license fees, food and insurance. These outgoings can be taken into account by the court when deciding who owns the pet, so be sure to keep a record of expenditures like this.
Can we be awarded joint custody?
Joint custody relates to parenting of a child. This concept traditionally does not apply to property like pets, and as such it’s unlikely the court would award it. But never say never.
You and your ex are free to make an arrangement between the two of you to share ownership of the pet. Classifying your pet as a child for scheduling purposes may be in the best interests for the children’s transition too. If sharing your family pet is important to you, we recommend making an arrangement and putting it in writing, in case things don’t always stay as amicable. This agreement might not be something that a court would enforce however, if things change in the future.
I’m worried about losing access to my pet
Speak to an expert family lawyer like Richmond Tymchuk Family Law LLP about your situation. Each situation is unique, so while we can provide general advice in this blog post, you’ll be better served with a consultation with a lawyer.