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Family law stance on pet ownership

The face of divorce law is always changing, as no two divorces are ever precisely alike. Here in British Columbia and elsewhere across the country, family law is regularly interpreted and updated to meet the needs of individual cases. One such scenario is gaining traction in the United States right now, and its effect on family law there will likely influence Canadian policy as well: that is, the question of pet ownership. 

Traditionally, pets have been viewed as property by the courts. If an animal is previously owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, the pet is deemed separate property and ownership reverts to that spouse. However, in many cases, families purchase a pet after the marriage, making "asset division" in this context somewhat more complicated. This is why some lawmakers are starting to suggest the courts change the way they think about pets. 

In Alaska, a law was recently passed requiring courts to consider what is best for the animal's welfare before ruling on who gets the pet. Similar bills are cropping up around the United States, where more and more judges are being given the latitude to grant joint custody to both spouses for their shared pet. While the specifics of these custody arrangements are far less complex than would be involved in a child custody case, it represents a fundamental shift in the way the courts think about pet ownership. 

Family law, by its very nature, must be pliable in order to handle the wide variety of divorce cases in British Columbia and elsewhere. It is important for a divorcing couple to be up to speed on how these laws pertain to their individual case. This is why seeking out the support of experienced divorce attorneys can be such a vital part of the separation process. 

Source:, "Who gets the dog in the divorce?", Matt Lindner, April 1, 2017

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