Who gets the dog (or pets) during a divorce?

While we may think of our dogs as children and treat our cats like members of the family, the law continues to treat pets like any other personal property.  That means that after a divorce or separation, the animals often end up living with the person who bought them.

If you and your spouse were married and the pet is particularly valuable, the value of the pet may be included in the equalization of net family property.  Unlike a bank account or an RRSP, the value of a pet is difficult to divide without selling the animal, which is generally not a popular suggestion.  Once the value of the pet is accounted for, there remains the question of where the pet will live.

What can you expect from a court order respecting a pet?

 If you and your spouse cannot agree about what to do with a pet following your separation, you can ask the court to determine who is the owner of the pet.  Much like it would if the personal property in question were a painting or a piece of furniture, the court will look at various factors to determine who owns the pet, including:

  • was the pet owned by one spouse prior to the start of the relationship
  • was the pet given as a gift to one spouse (whether given by the other spouse or by someone else)
  • who paid for the pet
  • who is indicated as the pet’s owner in a breed registry’s records or on a certificate of ownership, if such records exist
  • who is registered as the pet’s owner on any municipal pet-licensing records
  • who is on record as the pet’s owner at the vet’s office.

Unfortunately, none of these factors may reflect the reality of the relationship that the pet has with each spouse or with other family members, such as children.

In a recent case decided by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, one of the three judges acknowledged that dogs should not be treated like property, and ruled that the spouses were the co-owners of the dog.  This minority decision goes against the long-standing position of courts across the country and suggests that the possibility exists for changes to the law dealing with pets in the future.

Account for your pets in your separation, pre-nuptial or cohabitation agreement

 The bottom line is, the court is not equipped to deal with issues of who gets the dog (or pets) during a divorce in a way that spouses are likely to find satisfying.  If you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement on the subject of the pets, it will enable you to protect the interests of the pets.  If you are thinking ahead and preparing a pre-nuptial or cohabitation agreement, you can include a provision about the pets.

Contact our Richmond Hill Family Lawyers For Legal Assistance

If you are concerned about who gets the dog (or pets) during a divorce, our Richmond Hill divorce lawyers can provide you with the advice and guidance you need to ensure that your furry family members are taken care of now and in the future.  Contact us today.

*Disclaimer: Please note the content in this article is intended to act as a general overview on a legal topic. For specific legal advice regarding your unique situation with respect to who gets the pets during a divorce please consult with a lawyer.