Pet Custody: Who Gets the Family Dog?

Most pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family, not just another piece of property.

In British Columbia pets are considered to be personal/matrimonial property subject to equitable division according to property law principles and pursuant to the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act.

However, courts in British Columbia and the rest of the world have often recognized the unique nature of pets and the fact that they typically have a value in excess of the approximate cost of a replacement.  It is the irreplaceability of the special relationship between a pet and its owner that results in any pet custody dispute not being simply resolved by purchasing another pet of the same breed and type.

Some of the factors that a judge may consider in determining pet ownership include:

  1. Who purchased the pet?
  2. Was the pet a gift to one of the parties?
  3. Who was principally involved in the pet’s early training?
  4. Who was principally involved in the pet’s day-to-day care?
  5. Who has paid for the majority of the expenses related to the pet?
  6. Is the companionship of the pet more important to one of the parties?
  7. Who is the pet more attached to?
  8. Does one party have other similar pets in their possession to which they have the benefit of those pets’ presence and companionship?
  9. Is one of the parties the registered owner of the pet?
  10. Is one of the parties’ relationship with the pet dependent on his or her relationship with the other party?
  11. Who has had possession of and/or cared for the pet since the parties’ separation?

If you and your former partner both want to remain involved in your pet’s life, then it might be preferable to settle your pet custody dispute by consent in the form of a Consent Order or Separation Agreement rather than going to court and having a judge make a final order that only one of you will exclusively retain the pet.  It is perhaps also the best chance of two people sharing “ownership” of a pet.

Judge’s tend to want to ensure some kind of finality for the parties while minimize the likelihood for future conflict and since, in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property, it is highly unlikely if you went to court that a judge would order some form of shared or joint custody of your pet.

If the parties’ cannot agree and it becomes an issue for the court to decide, both sides take the risk of an order being made wherein they will no longer have any involvement in the pet’s life.  This is not a risk every pet owner wants to take.

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