"Pet Custody" A Relatively New Idea In Divorce - Zukerman Law

“Pet Custody” A Relatively New Idea In Divorce

The legal landscape of divorce is constantly evolving to reflect the realities of modern families. One such area of increasing attention is the disposition of companion animals during separation. This blog post explores the relatively new concept of “pet custody” arrangements within divorce settlements. We will examine the legal considerations surrounding pet ownership in divorce and the options available to couples seeking to formalize the care of their cherished animal companions.

BC Stances on Pets in Divorce: Examining Legal Realities and Potential Change

BC Stances on Pets in Divorce: Examining Legal Realities and Potential Change

Many Canadian families own pets, and those animals are widely considered by their owners to be far more than simply property. Of course, here in British Columbia, the eyes of the law see the most beloved family pets as nothing more than assets to be divided in the event a pet-owning couple seeks divorce. However, recent legislation passed in at least one U.S. state may be changing the way even Canadian lawmakers view pet ownership in the context of a divorce. Currently, an animal owned by one spouse before the marriage will revert to that individual’s ownership in the event of a divorce, as the animal is seen as pre-marital property. However, in cases where the animal is purchased jointly by the couple after the marriage occurs, it is considered marital property and must technically be divided. This is perhaps why laws are being considered in some U.S. states to address this issue.

In Alaska, for example, a law has been passed allowing judges to assign “joint custody” to spouses with a shared pet. Of course, these agreements are not as comprehensive as those applied to children, but it is still an unprecedented move in family law. It seems likely this interpretation of pets in the eyes of the law will continue to appeal to animal lovers who also happen to be getting divorced. Divorce law can be complicated at the best of times. This is even more true when new laws are introduced that could influence cases for couples here in British Columbia. Seeking counsel from experienced divorce attorneys is a good place to start for both individuals to understand their rights and responsibilities under family law.

Impact of BC Family Laws on Pets

Impact of BC Family Laws on Pets

The legal treatment of pets in divorce settlements is undergoing a significant shift in British Columbia. Traditionally, pets were viewed by the law as possessions subject to division as marital property. This approach often resulted in unplanned outcomes that disregarded the emotional bonds between pets and their human companions. The new family laws in BC represent a monumental step forward. They recognize the human-animal bond and encourage the consideration of “pet custody” arrangements within divorce settlements. These new laws prioritize the well-being of all family members, including pets. Courts will now evaluate the level of care provided to the pet by each party, moving beyond the outdated practice of simply awarding ownership based on who acquired the pet. These changes aim to encourage negotiation between separating couples regarding pet custody. This collaborative approach aims to minimize conflict and ensure pets are not used as bargaining chips during divorce proceedings.

Determining Pet Custody Arrangements in British Columbia

Determining Pet Custody Arrangements in British Columbia

British Columbia’s recent legislative changes have ushered in a new era for “pet custody” arrangements within divorce settlements. These arrangements move beyond the traditional focus on pet ownership and prioritize the well-being of the animal companion.

Evaluating Factors for Pet Custody

  • Quality of Care Provided: Evidence will be presented regarding the level of care each spouse provided the pet, including feeding, grooming, walking, and veterinary care. This hands-on involvement is a significant determinant of a healthy and secure bond between pets and humans.
  • Emotional Connections: The emotional attachments between each spouse and the pet will also be evaluated. The court will consider the depth and quality of the bond with each individual. If children are involved, their relationships with the pet will also be factored into the decision.
  • Living Arrangements and Resources: The ability to provide a stable and supportive environment for the pet is a critical consideration. The court will assess each spouse’s living situation, time availability, and resources to ensure the pet’s physical and emotional needs are adequately met.
  • History of Family Violence: Any history of domestic violence within the family will be carefully examined. Pets, like humans, can be traumatized by violence, and the court will prioritize placing the pet in a safe and secure environment.
Practical Considerations for Navigating Pet Custody Changes in BC

Practical Considerations for Navigating Pet Custody Changes in BC

British Columbia’s new family laws regarding pets in divorce require a shift in perspective. Pets are no longer viewed simply as property but as valued members of the family unit. This understanding is crucial for navigating the new pet custody landscape.

  • Focus on Pet’s Well-Being: The primary emphasis is on the welfare of the animal companion. Courts will prioritize factors such as primary caregiving and the ability to meet the pet’s needs moving forward.
  • Beyond Acquisition: While the circumstances surrounding the pet’s acquisition may be considered, it’s not the sole determining factor.
  • Promoting Amicable Solutions: The aim is to discourage using pets as bargaining chips in divorce settlements. Couples are encouraged to reach mutually agreeable arrangements that suit their new living situations.
  • Joint Custody Not Always the Norm: Shared custody of pets, while not typically court-ordered, is an option couples can explore within their agreements.

Bottom Line: Pets as Family in BC Separations

British Columbia’s new laws recognize pets as family, prioritizing their well-being in divorce. As you navigate separation, focus on solutions that prioritize your pet’s needs and emotional security. Contact Zukerman Law for legal guidance on pet custody arrangements. Our experienced family law team can help you understand your rights and explore all options, including mediation, to reach an amicable resolution for you, your pet, and your former partner. Zukerman Law is here to help ensure your furry friend is well cared for during this challenging time.


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.