Maclean Law’s pet custody lawyers resolve disputes regarding “Pet Custody”. Obviously, pets are key family members occupying an important status above other property and below child parenting and guardianship issues. What is clear is that separating spouses love their pets and on separation, strong emotions are triggered.
On January 15, 2024 British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to treat pets differently than other personal possessions when parties separate.
Our lawyers have been quoted widely by the media as leading pet custody lawyers:
Sophie Bartholomew speaks to CTV News about BC Pet Custody Disputes
Canadian Lawyer Magazine
Business in Vancouver
Issues that we have seen arise in our 40 plus years of dealing with pet ownership and time sharing disputes include:
- Ownership and possession of your pet and is there a preferred owner;
- Protecting the safety of your pet;
- In cases of disputes over the best interests of the pet should one owner have final say on pet decisions, should it be joint, or should a Court decide the issue?
- Post separation care, responsibilities and time sharing of your beloved pet;
- Maintaining a relationship for children and the pet after separation;
- Sharing of training, daycare, and day to day expenses, veterinary medical decisions and costs involving these important family members and whether this should be in proportion to income;
- Travel issues and the safety of your pet;
- Pet insurance costs given the high costs of vet bills or whether a joint account gets contributed to by each separated spouse;
- The need for, and sharing of activities, training, exercise and daycare costs;
- Mediation and arbitration of pet custody disputes;
- Expert reports from any potential accredited veterinarian psychologists.
We expect that owners and pet custody lawyers will immediately press the government to make shared ownership, shared possession and pet custody one of the options open to Courts.
What are the Key Changes and Implications Regarding BC Pet Custody Disputes?
1. Best Interests of Animals
- Pets are now classified as “companion animals”, differentiating them from other assets.
- Courts will prioritize the best interests of the pet, considering various factors like care history, risk of family violence, and the pet’s relationship with children.
2. Definition of Companion Animals
- The amendments define “companion animals” as animals primarily kept for companionship, excluding guide dogs, service dogs, business animals, and agricultural animals.
3. Legal Reclassification and Factors
- Pets are no longer viewed as personal property but have a unique classification.
- Factors in Pet Custody Decisions:
- The circumstances of acquiring the pet.
- Each spouse’s involvement in pet care.
- History and risk of family violence.
- Cruelty or threat of cruelty towards the pet.
- The pet’s relationship with children in the family.
- Each spouse’s ability and willingness to care for the pet.
- Any other relevant circumstances.
4. Section 92 and 97 Amendments
- Under Section 92, the Supreme Court can now uphold agreements on joint or exclusive ownership/possession of companion animals.
- Section 97 empowers the Supreme Court to determine pet ownership/possession, mandating consideration of the pet’s best interest.
5. Jurisdiction of Provincial Court
- Section 193 of the Family Law Act allows the Provincial Court to have jurisdiction over companion animal disputes, benefiting those in common-law relationships and providing a faster, more efficient legal avenue.
6. Collaborative Approaches and Mediation
- Encourages mediation and collaborative law processes for amicable pet custody agreements.
- Focus on creating comprehensive agreements that outline pet care responsibilities and financial obligations.
7. Child and Pet Custody Integration
- Highlights the importance of considering the impact of pet custody on children, advocating for integrated family law strategies.
8. Concerns & Limitations
- Specifically, the court cannot order joint ownership or shared possession of companion animals, unlike agreements between parties which can include shared custody (Section 97(d)(4.2)).
- The court also cannot order unequal division respecting a Companion Animal (Section 97(d)(4.3)).
- Legislation’s focus on “basic needs” of animals, rather than comprehensive well-being.