Pet Custody

Many types of households and families have pets.  From the wild and exotic to the more traditional, pets are sometimes as much a part of a family as anyone else.  From the grooming to the registering, pets are widely becoming recognized as members of the family.  They are protected and loved by their owners and their treatment is governed by the law. 

In relationships, a pet may have been a gift, or purchased by one party.  The emotional attachment that can grow between a pet and an owner is powerful and can lead to bitter and vindictive separation proceedings which in turn are lengthy and costly.

If there is a divorce or separation, how is custody of a pet decided?

As crass as some may believe it is, Canadian law regards pets as property or possessions.  Some people may choose to argue custody from that standpoint or go another route and insist that shared family pets should be treated as surrogate children because the factors that need to be decided (like living arrangements and financial status) are the same factors taken into consideration when deciding on custody for children.

There has been a case in Saskatchewan (Gauvin v. Schaeffer) where shared custody was ordered for the family dog Shikydoe, a beautiful white Husky.  At the time, it was the first and only case where a judge ruled for shared custody of a pet.

While the law’s notion may be black and white and a bit inadequate for some, it is still used to determine ownership of a family pet after a separation or divorce.  Some still draw parallels between how custody is decided for a child vs a pet and below are some of the standard issues taken into consideration.

  • Who provided primary physical care for the dog?
  • Who was more financially responsible for the dog? (vet visits, toys, food etc)
  • Who has the pet bonded more with?
  • After a separation, who has been the primary caregiver for the dog?

General possession questions pertaining to a pet can include:

  • Who purchased the pet?
  • Who is listed as an owner at the vet’s office?
  • Who trained the pet? (dogs usually)
  • Who is the listed owner of the dog? (registered owner)

These custody battles normally arise when there isn’t specific mention of pet custody in a separation agreement.  This is why it is important to have an experienced family lawyer guide you through your separation or divorce proceedings.  It is imperative that your rights are represented during this emotional time period in your life. 

If your pet is important to you and you have an interest in exercising your ownership rights, you should make mention of this to your family lawyer.

There was an instance where a case was deemed a nuisance when brought to the Ontario Court of Appeal.  In Warnica v. Gering, the parties wanted to settle a custody arrangement for their dog.  A ruling of joint custody was being sought after but the Appeals Judge upheld the initial trial Judge’s refusal to make a ruling on the request, adding that the case was a “waste of time” and an “abuse of the court process”.  The claim was ultimately dismissed.

We at Zeidman Law can help you come to an amicable resolution of divorce and separation proceedings.  Our goal is to represent your rights during negotiating proceedings and to efficiently resolve issues pertaining to the division of property.  Call us today or visit us online and fill out a confidential and free request form for an assessment.

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