Custody of Pets and Animals During Divorce - Zukerman Law

What You Should Know about Custody of Pets and Animals During Divorce?

Pets are cherished family members and valuable companions. Pet custody is a crucial topic to discuss when going through a separation, breakup or divorce.
Even though you might consider your pet as a member of your family, it’s crucial to remember that the law sees animals differently. Under BC family law, is a dog or other pet treated as property or as a child? Which of the two spouses should be the pet custodian, according to the court’s decision?
Understanding the legal landscape surrounding pet custody during divorce is crucial for pet owners entering this chapter of life. In many jurisdictions, pets are considered property under the law, which means they are subject to division like any other asset.
However, recognizing the emotional and practical importance of pets, courts are increasingly open to considering their well-being in custody decisions.

A New Perspective on Family Pets in BC Family Law Act

A New Perspective on Family Pets in BC Family Law Act

British Columbia’s pet custody laws are changing as a result of significant changes to the Family Law Act, which will affect how family pets are treated in divorce or separation cases.
More and more animals are receiving the respect they deserve and being treated like people when it comes to what’s best for them. In the past, they were seen as nothing more than possessions, a view that not everyone agreed with.
Prior to the most recent amendments, family pets were included in the category of personal property under the Family Law Act, along with things like homes, vehicles, and furniture. When pets were categorized as family members instead of possessions, it frequently had tragic results for the pet owners who loved them. The new amendments seek to solve this problem by classifying family pets differently and providing judges with more detailed instructions on how to handle pet custody cases.
British Columbia’s proposed Family Law Act amendments aim to treat animals like people. The first consideration is the pet’s best interests, and the court will decide who gets the pet after a separation or divorce by taking into account factors such as family violence, previous care, and the bond between children and dogs.

Key Factors Influencing Pet Custody Decisions

Key Factors Influencing Pet Custody Decisions

Pet custody decisions can be complex and emotional, often requiring consideration of various factors. Here are key factors that typically influence pet custody decisions:

  1. Courts often consider who primarily takes care of the pet daily. This includes feeding, grooming, exercising, and overall responsibility for the pet’s well-being.
  2. The circumstances in which the companion animal was acquired.
  3. The party who financially supports the pet, including expenses like vet bills, food costs, grooming, and other related expenses, may be favored in custody decisions.
  4. Any history of family violence.
  5. The risk of family violence.
  6. A spouse’s cruelty, or threat of cruelty, toward an animal.
  7. The relationship that a child has with the companion animal.
  8. The emotional bond between each party and the pet is considered. Courts may evaluate who the pet seems more attached to and the potential impact of separation on the pet’s well-being.
  9. The willingness and ability of each spouse to care for the basic needs of the companion animal.
  10. The availability and schedule of each party to care for the pet. Factors like work hours, travel frequency, and ability to spend time with the pet are important.

By considering these factors, the court can make a decision about pet custody that is in the best interests of the animal. In some cases, the court may award sole custody of the pet to one spouse. In other cases, the court may order shared custody, where the pet spends time with each spouse.

Can a Pet Be Jointly Owned?

Can a Pet Be Jointly Owned?

A court may also determine that the pet is jointly owned after considering all the available evidence. The court will probably order one party to buy out the other in that situation. As an alternative, the court may divide any pets between the parties in case there are multiple of them.
Although the spouse who does not keep the pet may find this decision unsatisfactory, courts often prefer this to an order that would try to force disputed ex-spouses to divide the pet.
The reasoning for this seems to be that couples who need judicial intervention to determine who gets to keep the pet are also likely to face more conflict if they have to navigate arrangements for time sharing or shared financial responsibility for the pet’s care.
For this reason, courts are eager to prevent the stress, expense, and usage of judicial resources that could result from continuing joint ownership.

Adapting to the Changes in Pet Parenting Law in British Columbia

Adapting to the Changes in Pet Parenting Law in British Columbia

It may seem difficult at first to adjust to the new pet custody laws in British Columbia, but you may successfully negotiate this new legal environment if you have the correct knowledge and strategy.
When adjusting to the most current changes, keep the following essential steps in mind:

Stay Informed

To ensure you make well-informed decisions, stay up to date on changes in pet custody legislation and speak with a family lawyer who handles these types of issues. Be aware that even if a pet is excluded from property, it can be taken away without compensation under the new legislation.
Moreover, although parties may agree to share custody, they cannot do so in a court order, as a court can only assign the animal to one party or the other.

Consider the Pet’s Best Interests

When deciding on pet custody arrangements, keep your pet’s best interests in mind at all times.

Seek Professional Guidance

For assistance in settling complicated pet custody disputes, consult with a mediator, collaborative law professional, or experienced family lawyer.
When facing complex pet custody disputes, it’s essential to seek professional guidance to navigate legal complexities effectively. The Zukerman Law Group is here to provide Professional support and assistance.

Why Choose Zukerman Law Group?

Expertise in Family Law: The Zukerman Law Group specializes in family law matters, including pet custody disputes. Our experienced lawyers understand the nuances of these cases and can offer tailored solutions.
Compassionate Approach: We recognize the emotional importance of pets in families. Our team approaches each case with empathy and sensitivity, striving for fair and amicable resolutions.
Skilled Mediation and Collaboration: We excel in mediation and collaborative law approaches, aiming to resolve disputes outside of court whenever possible, minimizing stress and costs for our clients.
For more information or to set up an INITIAL CONSULTATION, contact us at 604-575-5464 or contact us.

Update Pet Care Practices

Ensure you’re complying with new standards. For example, if there are updated rules about pet restraint in vehicles or licensing requirements, make the necessary adjustments to your pet care routine.

Establish a Clear Custody Schedule

Create a detailed schedule outlining the specific times and dates each party will care for the pet to minimize confusion.


While the law may view your pet as property, we all know they’re often cherished members of the family. By considering the factors above and prioritizing open communication with your ex, you can find a solution that minimizes stress for both you and your furry (or feathered, or scaled) friend. Remember, reaching an agreement outside of court is generally faster, cheaper, and allows you more control over the outcome. If you do need to involve a mediator or lawyer, choose one who understands the emotional importance of pets in the divorce process.


1- What are the rules for pet custody in Canada?

Each person will keep multiple pets if the couple owns multiple ones, which will be divided by the court. Just one spouse may be granted custody if there is only one pet, according to court regulations. In this case, the court must decide whether to treat the pet as property, a person, or both.

2- Are pets affected by divorce?

Pets, like humans, can be affected by divorces, and their well-being should be prioritized, and plans for custody and care should be made and agreed upon.


Stuart Zukerman

Stuart Zukerman, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, has over 32 years of experience in litigation with a focus on Family Law, Personal Injury, Wrongful Dismissal claims, and Collaborative Divorce & Mediation. He has extensive trial experience in divorce, child custody, spousal support, asset division, and ICBC injury claims. As an accredited Family Law Mediator, he helps resolve disputes without court intervention. Stuart has also authored papers on family law and lectured at CLE courses.