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Breaking News: Proposed Pet Law for Families in B.C. – Is Ontario Next?

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

For those separating and divorcing couples who really love their pets, the British Columbia government is taking a “paws-itive” step.

As reported in the news media earlier this week, new Family Law amendments have been introduced for consideration in B.C.; if passed, they would entirely re-vamp how the law characterizes pets, and impose a new structure on legal battles over their custody.  These proposed changes are the first of their kind in Canada.

That’s because at the moment in B.C. – as in the rest of Canada – the law dictates that after a marital/relationship split between their owners, pets are to be treated as property.  Just like a favourite couch.  So currently when a couple decides to separate and cannot agree on who gets to keep a beloved dog for example, the court will make an order declaring ownership.  This is after considering asset-related elements, such as which of them purchased the dog, and which of them has primary responsibility for the current costs of its feeding and care.  

(This historic approach also means that the term “pet custody” is a misnomer that has never been quite accurate anywhere in Canada:  Unlike the situation with children, pet-related disputes have been governed by ownership rights, not custody or parenting time.)

But this newly proposed B.C. law would change all that.  Aimed specifically at couples who own pets and are separated or divorcing, the new amendments to the Family Law regime would require a court to consider a number of factors, before making an award on which of them gets custody post-split.  Among the considerations are willingness to care for the pet, and any threats of cruelty or risk of family violence.  If the couple has children, the court would also be required to consider the relationship that the child has with the pet, with a view towards how parenting time has been allocated.

Right now, the legislation is just being proposed.  But if it’s passed, it will force courts to recognize the unique and special place that pets have in most families, and to look closely at making an order that acknowledges the best interests of divorcing spouses, their children … and their cherished four-legged (or two-legged) pals as well. 

Is this new B.C. initiative an “op-paw-tunity” for Ontario Family Law to follow suit? What are your thoughts?

For further information about the proposed legislation, see the B.C. government’s information page:

And see the following news report:

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About the author

Russell Alexander

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