For many of us, our pets are members of the family. We love them, play with them, care for them, and talk to them. Losing them can be enormously painful and difficult.
So what happens to them in the event of a divorce or separation? Pets are not children, but they’re also not property; they seem to sit right in between. How does the law view them?
What is the Legal Status of Pets?
In short, the law views pets as property, and in legal terms they have the same status as any other property, such as vehicles or household goods. This is not how you view your pets, and your lawyer will understand that, but it doesn’t change how they are considered when it comes to asset division.
This issue was addressed by a judge in Saskatoon in a case that gained international attention. During the divorce trial, the wife requested a custody arrangement for the family’s pets, with visitation rights for her ex-husband. Justice Richard Danyliuk objected on the grounds that while pets are certainly family members, they are not children and should not be treated as such by the court.
So how would the court deal with this issue? As with any other marital asset, the first question would be who bought or adopted the pet. If your cat, dog, or other animal was yours before you were married, then there usually wouldn’t be any grounds for dispute – the animal belongs to you. If the two of you adopted the pet together during the marriage, then the situation becomes a bit more complicated.
How Do You Determine Ownership of a Pet in a Divorce?
Figuring out who is the primary owner of your pet can be difficult. To show the court that you were the purchaser, you can provide receipts, vet bills, or bank statements showing that you have paid for the pet. Even if your pet was a gift, you may be able to prove ownership if you have a card or other statement from the giver.
If you don’t have anything that definitively proves ownership, you can show that you have made monetary contributions to your pet’s care by showing receipts for food, toys, dog walkers, vet bills, pet insurance, or any other related expenses. This may be enough to tip the balance and show that you should be the primary owner of the pet.
What Will the Courts Do About Pet Custody?
The answer to this question is: absolutely nothing. Because animals are considered property, a judge will not get involved in working out time sharing arrangements for your pets, and in fact may view such a request negatively.
This does not mean a custody arrangement isn’t possible, however; you’ll just have to come up with one on your own, or with the help of a mediator. There are many ways to finalize a divorce without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom, and lots of opportunities to work out how to divide your assets, including your pets.
If you and your ex are on reasonably good terms, you may be able to work everything out yourselves. If you can agree on the major issues such as child custody, spousal support, and asset division, this is without a doubt the cheapest and fastest way to settle a divorce.
The next option is mediation. If you can’t quite get on the same page on every issue, a neutral third party can help you work things out. The mediator won’t make any decisions for you, but instead will help the two of you reach a compromise. After that’s done, the separation agreement will be written up by your lawyers.
Either of these options offers an opportunity for the two of you to come to an agreement regarding where your pets will live, and whether the other spouse will be able to see them. Some ex-couples trade the pets back and forth every week or every month, or perhaps the animals will spend weekends with their other “parent.” You may also decide to share costs, such as vet bills and pet food. If you decide on this type of arrangement, it’s a good idea to put it in writing, but keep in mind that if there is ever a dispute, this won’t necessarily help you if it goes to court. It’s best to work with each other in order to keep the arrangement running smoothly.
Contact Galbraith Family Law
Asset division can be difficult in the best of circumstances, but the love you have for your pets can certainly make things that much harder. If you need help deciding how to handle your pets in a divorce, call the lawyers at Galbraith Family Law. We understand how important your animals are to you and can help you resolve the situation. To get in touch with Galbraith Family Law, you can fill in the contact form on our website or give us a call. If you live in the Newmarket area, call (289) 802-2433; if you’re in Barrie, call (705) 302-1102.