Who Gets to Keep the Dog in a BC Divorce?

Understanding Pet Custody in British Columbia

Divorce can be an emotionally challenging time for couples, and the question of who gets to keep the beloved family pet can add an additional layer of complexity. In recent years, the issue of pet custody has gained attention in legal discussions, including in British Columbia. While pets are considered cherished members of the family, it’s important to understand how the law in British Columbia addresses pet custody during divorce proceedings.

Legal Status of Pets in British Columbia

In British Columbia, pets have traditionally been classified as property rather than having a distinct legal status as family members. Unlike child custody, there are no specific laws or guidelines for pet custody in divorce cases. Therefore, determining pet custody largely relies on the principles of property division and negotiation between the parties involved.

Factors Considered by the Court

When couples cannot agree on who gets to keep the dog or other pets, the court may step in to make a decision based on the following factors:

  1. Ownership: The court will consider who legally owns the pet. If one spouse purchased or adopted the pet before the relationship or can provide evidence of sole ownership, it may strengthen their claim.
  2. Care and Responsibility: The court will examine who has been primarily responsible for the pet’s care and well-being. Factors such as feeding, grooming, veterinary care, and exercise routines will be considered to determine which spouse has been the primary caregiver.
  3. Best Interests of the Pet: While pets are considered property, the court may still consider the best interests of the pet. Factors such as the pet’s attachment to each spouse, living arrangements, and stability will be taken into account.
  4. Financial Considerations: If one spouse can demonstrate the ability to provide for the pet’s ongoing care, including financial responsibilities such as food, veterinary expenses, and insurance, it may influence the court’s decision.
  5. Child’s Best Interests: If there are children involved in the divorce, the court may take into account the relationship between the pet and the children. Maintaining continuity and stability for the children could be a factor when determining pet custody.

Negotiating Pet Custody Out of Court

Divorcing couples can also opt to negotiate pet custody outside of court through mediation or collaborative law. This allows the couple to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement based on their specific circumstances. Mediation can be especially useful for couples who want to prioritize the well-being of their pet and maintain a positive relationship after the divorce.

Considering Alternative Arrangements

In some cases, joint custody or visitation arrangements may be considered for pets. This allows both parties to spend time with the pet and share responsibility for their care. Such arrangements should be clearly defined and agreed upon by both parties to avoid future conflicts or misunderstandings.

Seeking Legal Advice

Given the lack of specific legislation around pet custody in British Columbia, it is advisable to seek legal advice from a family law professional. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation and help you understand your rights and options regarding pet custody during divorce proceedings.

BC’s Bill 17

BC’s Bill 17 (Family Law Amendment Act, 2023) introduced in March 2023, will assist parties and judges decide pet custody disputes when a couple separates.

Bill 17 creates a new definition of a “companion animal” in the Family Law Act, which is an animal that is kept primarily for the purpose of companionship. It excludes service dogs and animals that are kept as part of a business or agricultural purpose.

In determining whether to make an order respecting a companion animal, the Supreme Court must consider the following factors:

(a) the circumstances in which the companion animal was acquired;

(b) the extent to which each spouse cared for the companion animal;

(c) any history of family violence;

(d) the risk of family violence;

(e) a spouse’s cruelty, or threat of cruelty, toward an animal;

(f) the relationship that a child has with the companion animal;

(g) the willingness and ability of each spouse to care for the basic needs of the companion animal;

(h) any other circumstances the court considers relevant.

Furthermore, an order respecting a companion animal must not

(a) declare that the spouses jointly own the companion animal, or

(b) require the spouses to share possession of the companion animal.

Conclusion

While pets hold a special place in our hearts, the law in British Columbia has traditionally treated them as property when it comes to divorce and separation. Bill 17 strives to change this. Determining pet custody requires considering factors such as ownership, primary caregiver status, the best interests of the pet, financial considerations, and potential impact on children. Seeking legal advice and exploring negotiation options outside of court can help divorcing couples find a solution that considers the well-being of the pet while addressing their individual circumstances. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure a fair and reasonable resolution that serves the best interests of all parties involved.

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Aisha 0029 crop Aisha Naveed

Aisha Naveed

Aisha primarily practices in the area of family law. She has successfully represented clients in both the Provincial and Supreme Courts of British Columbia.

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