During a divorce, assets get divided, and guardianship of minor children is settled. But what about pets? Typically, in divorce cases, neither spouse wants to give up their cherished pet, but what does the law say about pet custody in British Columbia? In this article, we explain how the custody of pets is handled during a separation.
How Family Law Views Animals
While many people view their pets similarly to children, under the Family Law Act, dogs, cats, and any other animals are considered property rather than members of the family.
This means that when a couple gets divorced, the spouse that purchased the pet is legally entitled to the animal. Or, if one spouse gifted a pet to the other, the spouse that received the animal will be granted custody.
However, there have been some cases in BC where pet custody matters have been brought before a judge, and the judge ruled that the best interests of the animal should be considered.
What If Both Spouses Purchased the Pet Together?
In cases where both spouses jointly purchased a pet, the court will intervene to decide how custody will be awarded.
When the spouses have more than one pet, and there are an even number of pets, the court will likely award each spouse an equal share of the animals.
When there is only one pet or an odd number of animals, the court will decide who gets custody of the animal(s) by taking into consideration whether they should be considered property, a person, or both.
How the Law Is Changing
In March 2023, the BC provincial government proposed that changes be made to the Family Law Act to provide legal guidance surrounding pet ownership and custody of family pets. If the proposed changes are passed, judges and mediators would be required to award custody based on the best interest of the animal, considering factors such as:
- Each spouse’s ability and willingness to care for the pet
- The relationship any minor children have with the pet
- Whether there’s any risk of violence or cruelty to the animal
How a Family Lawyer Can Help With Pet Custody Cases
If you are separated from your spouse and are considering divorce but have concerns about custody of a family pet, contact our BC family lawyers at Highland Law. Our team can advise you on the options for securing custody of your beloved pet.