When a British Columbia couple decided to part ways, they found themselves enmeshed in an unexpected custody battle. While they shared parenting responsibilities for their children, it was the family’s Golden Retriever that was the source of contention.
As pet-loving people will tell you, dogs have a wonderful way of finding a permanent place in your heart. Unfortunately, if a family unit dissolves, the question of who gets to take the canine companion isn’t always cut and dry.
While pet parents may argue otherwise, dogs are not family in the eyes of the law. When it comes to figuring out who gets custody of animals, separating spouses must consider it a division of property. In BC, both married and common-law couples have an obligation to divide family property based on the Family Law Act which, in some cases, includes a pet.
In the Golden Retriever’s case, the Civil Resolution Tribunal of B.C. sided with the male spouse due to the fact that he alone had signed the dog’s adoption papers. As a result, he was the person determined to be contractually responsible for the animal’s care. In other cases, couples in conflict have escalated matters to the provincial court in an effort to find a solution. According to a Tribunal member “the cases make it clear that a dog is a special type of property.”
Navigating a separation or divorce is an emotional and stressful process. Adding the complication of sharing ownership of a family pet can make things even more difficult. Whether you include your pets in a marriage or cohabitation agreement or work with an experienced family lawyer to find a solution that everyone can agree on, it is important to plan ahead in order to avoid unnecessary heartache.