Court Cases & Orders

Wife is in Contempt of Court for Disobeying Dog Order

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Wife is in Contempt of Court for Disobeying Dog Order

A separation agreement covering dog “visitation”.  A refusal to return the dog.  A faked dog death.  Procedural wranglings.  Contempt of court.

Two rulings in a Prince Edward Island divorce case have all this, and more.

The case involved spouses who separated after five years of marriage.  They crafted a separation agreement – later confirmed by court order – that expressly dealt with the four dogs they had shared.

The husband would get to care for the dog that was referred to in the judgment as “MA”.   The wife would be allowed reasonable time with that dog, upon her request.  Conversely, the wife would get to keep and care for the three other dogs named R, M, and P.   She would give the husband overnight time with those three dogs every other Friday – or at other times they agreed to.

However, the wife failed to comply with those terms in the separation agreement.  To the contrary:  She did not provide the husband with the doggy-time he was entitled to, but rather withheld them from him for significant periods, and dodged his many requests.   It turns out the wife had actually returned two of the dogs, R and M, to the breeder.

Respecting the last dog P, the wife lied to the husband:  she told him he had run away and was presumed dead.  In truth, she had re-homed that dog by giving or selling it to one of her friends, “KP”.  When the husband found out and asked KP to return the dog, she flatly refused.

The husband accused the wife of trying to thwart the terms of the separation agreement/order.  He succeeded in having the court declare her in contempt, and asked to have the agreement’s terms enforced.

In the first of a two-part ruling, the court ordered R and M to be returned from the breeder, and given to the husband.  He was granted sole possession of them.

As for the third dog P that was currently with KP:  The court found its hands were tied.  It had no jurisdiction to force KP to return it to the husband.

That’s because the separation agreement did not grant the husband ownership of P – it merely settled how much time he got with it.  So-called “dog visitation”, as it were.  So it was not a question of KP returning an item that was rightfully his.  Plus, KP had never been named in any court action between the husband and the wife.  She was essentially a third-party to their divorce proceedings.

Despite the husband’s argument that he should not have to start a brand-new action against KP, the court found the P.E.I. Rules of Court dealing with order-enforcement simply did not allow for it to grant the husband the order he wanted.  The husband had not provided any case law to suggest otherwise.

The court said:

I appreciate this is a rather unique situation.  At this stage, the husband has not commenced an action against K.P. seeking return of the dog, nor is K.P. a named party in the current matter.  In the circumstances, I am not prepared to issue the order requested.  The court would require evidence and a fulsome record including a full opportunity for K.P. to lead evidence and make submissions including on the ownership issue, before it would be appropriate for the court to consider such an order.  I am not satisfied that the enforcement regime set out in the Rules is appropriate to ground the relief that the husband seeks, given the circumstances before me.

The court also noted that at the time of the hearing, the dog P had been living with KP for a long time, and would be affected by any uprooting.  The court did order that if KP ever voluntarily returned the dog to the wife, she should immediately relinquish it to the husband for his sole possession.  Failing that, the court urged the parties to give thought to “potential future litigation to resolve the issue involving the dog P”.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

M.J. v. T.J., 2021 PESC 26

M.J. v. T.J., 2022 PESC 6 

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.