High-Profile Cases

Dog Named “Stella” Makes Family Law History in B.C.

Written by Russell Alexander ria@russellalexander.com / (905) 655-6335

As we reported a few months ago (“Hear Ye! Hear Ye! “Pet Custody” is Now Part of B.C.’s Family Law”), on January 15, 2024 the province of British Columbia became the first in Canada to enact Family Laws that expressly include the concept of “pet custody”.

Now, as a follow-up we can report there’s been another related development:  The B.C. court has rendered its first official ruling in reliance of those pet custody laws, in a case involving a golden retriever named “Stella”.

The case involved a woman named Sahar and her boyfriend Omid.  They bought the dog together in August of 2020, when they started living together.  They shared equally in the initial cost to buy her, and then split the costs of her care during their relationship. Sahar even created an Instagram page for Stella.

But when they broke up a few years later, in February of 2023, the issue arose as to how or whether Sahar and Omid would share Stella going-forward. They took the matter to court, where Sahar asked for an order granting her exclusive care.

The judge refused, in favour of an order for shared custody: Stella would be cared for on a 50-50 basis, based on a week on/week off rotation, basis, subject to the parties’ further agreement or a court order.  The former couple would also have shared decision-making responsibility over her.

In his reasons, the judge rejected the woman’s claims that the man – who happened to be a veterinarian – had been neglectful or cruel to the dog. Instead, he found that both Sahar and Omid had “shown a deep concern about the well being of Stella”, to the point where he was satisfied that shared custody was in everyone’s best interests. The judge added:

[14] The recent amendments to the Family Law Act essentially put the ownership of a companion animal, such as Stella, in the context of something that goes beyond ownership of a chattel. The sentience of the animal is recognized to the extent that the criteria reflect.

As mentioned, this decision is noteworthy because it’s the court’s first opportunity to apply the new pet-related rules added to the B.C. Family Law Act at the beginning of the year.  Those rules address how “companion animals” (a defined term) are to be dealt with in a separation and divorce.

Among other things, they mandate that a court must consider eight different factors – including how the pet was acquired and cared for – as part of the decision on how its care will be handled after a relationship split.  Conceptually, they embody a landmark legal shift, away from a view of pets as “property” and towards an approach that views them more akin to family members.

As we wrote in our Blog more recently, Ontario has yet to adopt this more modern approach to pet custody.

Do you think it should?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Bayat v. Mavedati, 2024 BCSC 619 (CanLII), https://canlii.ca/t/k41hz

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About the author

Russell Alexander

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