Legal Insights / Civil Litigation / What About the Dog? Divorce and Companion Animals

What About the Dog? Divorce and Companion Animals

Jan 24 2024

For many British Columbians, pets are a part of the family. Naturally, when you are going through a separation from your spouse, you may wonder what is going to happen to your furry (or feathered, or scaly) family members. In the past, companion animals have been treated like any other property, subject to division based on ownership rather than any other concerns.

Recent amendments to British Columbia’s Family Law Act have changed the legal landscape for pets who are caught in the middle of a family law dispute. Effective January 15, 2024, new Family Law Act provisions relating to companion animals came into effect. Under the new rules, the role of pets as members of the family is recognized, and the Court has more tools to help determine the best outcome where pets are concerned. Below we answer some common questions about this new legislation. 

Does my animal count as a companion animal?

The Family Law Act defines a companion animal as one kept primarily for companionship. It does not include service animals or guide dogs. Animals kept for business purposes or agricultural purposes are not companion animals. Companion animals are ones whose primary role is to be a part of the family! 

How will the Court decide who gets custody of our pets?

The Court will consider a holistic set of factors. They include: 

  • The circumstances under which the animal was acquired
  • Who cared for the animal during the relationship and to what extent
  • History of and risk of family violence 
  • Any cruelty (or threat of cruelty) toward the animal by either spouse 
  • The relationship between any children and the animal
  • Willingness and ability of each party to meet the animal’s needs
  • Any other circumstance the Court deems relevant

The Court must now consider each of those factors and determine which party should have ownership and possession of the animal. This is a developing area of law, so we look forward to seeing how Courts interpret the facts in challenging real-world scenarios.

Can my ex and I share custody of our pet? 

Short answer: yes, if you and your spouse can reach an agreement to share custody of your pet then you may certainly do so.

Longer answer: The new rules do not allow the Supreme Court to order the parties to share custody of a pet. The Supreme Court can, however, give effect to agreements between the parties to share custody of an animal. There is mixed law on whether shared custody can be ordered in Small Claims Court. If you wish to share custody of a pet, it is best to make that agreement outside of Court which we are happy to assist with. 

more questions?

We can help. Please contact our office at 604.853.0774 to schedule a consult with a member of our Family Law team

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