Family pets have always been a contentious part of divorce law. For the most part, lawmakers here in British Columbia and elsewhere throughout Canada have not been able to fully agree on where an animal sits on the spectrum of assets. The argument has more recently been made that sentience, no matter how minimal, should be a good reason not to treat pets solely as property, but others still argue against “pet custody” insofar as it mimics how the court treats the children of a divorce.
A decision made last year in a provincial court saw a judge rule that pets must not be treated as children in divorce proceedings, in response to a woman’s request to see her “pet custody” argument treated with the same gravitas as child custody. The concern was raised that treating pets (in this case, a family dog) as property would pose dangers to the animal’s welfare since it comes into conflict with existing animal rights legislation. The presiding judge responded by differentiating that children in Canada cannot be bred for particular traits, nor can they be purchased or euthanized the way dogs can.
The SPCA has routinely argued that treating dogs and other animals as property lends credence to the idea that purchased animals (especially those purchased as gifts around the holidays) are disposable. However, the mere fact the issue had to be addressed in divorce court means no final decisions have been unilaterally made at this time. While animals will likely never have the same value in a divorce as children do, changing attitudes in the legal community could begin changing perceptions across the board.
Divorce, and particularly property division, can be a difficult issue to broach, as some British Columbia residents are keenly aware. However, every divorce is as different as the couple seeking it. This means that securing the support of qualified, experienced divorce attorneys for both parties remains an important first step in handling even the most contentious divorce issues.