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Pets no longer considered property in B.C. separation, divorce proceedings


The way B.C. courts decide who gets to keep a family pet after a separation or divorce is changing Monday, as amendments to the province's Family Law Act come into effect.

Until now the question of so-called pet custody was settled as part of the division of property. But a new section of the legislation on "companion animals" changes that.

The move was applauded by B.C. animal law lawyer V. Victoria Shroff.

"Pets will be seen as family members, not simply awarded to the spouse who purchased or adopted the pet. Instead, new, more holistic factors have been enacted to help guide courts,” said Shroff at a news conference Monday.

The legislation now provides a list of factors that must be considered when deciding the fate of a family pet.

Those factors are, according to the legislation:

  • the circumstances in which the companion animal was acquired;
  • the extent to which each spouse cared for the companion animal;
  • any history of family violence;
  • the risk of family violence;
  • a spouse's cruelty, or threat of cruelty, toward an animal;
  • the relationship that a child has with the companion animal;
  • the willingness and ability of each spouse to care for the basic needs of the companion animal.

The provincial government said the changes were inspired by public feedback.

"I had a pet custody case where a woman's husband claimed he was going to keep the family dog simply because his name was on the adoption papers,” said Shroff. “The dog was being used as a pawn in this family dispute without any consideration for who took care of the dog or that his son was bonded to the family dog."

Family lawyer Sophie Bartholomew believes the new guidelines will help in court proceedings.

“I think it makes sure that the parties know what to expect because previously there were no set guidelines as to how it would be dealt with,” said Bartholomew, who works at Maclean Family Law. “It was dealt with on a case by case basis so at least now we know what the guidelines say.”

Shroff believes the new legislation could spark a country-wide change when it comes to animal rights in family disputes.

“This is a historic day for B.C.,” said Shroff. “It’s not been done to any other province and now we’re going to say in certainty that pets are going to be treated better in custody cases.”

Spouses are encouraged to make their own agreements about custody or ownership of pets, with options that include jointly owning, sharing possession or giving one partner exclusive possession of the pet. In cases where the couple can't agree, that the courts will step in and rely on the new considerations. The changes do not apply to guide dogs or agricultural livestock.

Unlike cases involving children, the court cannot order shared custody of a pet. Any agreement of sharing the pet has to be made outside of court. Top Stories


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