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Pet Ownership During a Separation or Divorce in Ontario

The emotional turmoil that comes with a separation or divorce can be heightened when one’s cherished pets are involved. This is especially true when it is unclear who will maintain custody of the pet. Disputes over pet ownership are not technically considered ‘custody’ disputes at all. Instead, it becomes a property dispute.

For professional legal advice regarding pet ownership agreements during a separation or divorce, we recommend connecting with an Ontario family law lawyer. Contact our family law lawyers to schedule a consultation today.

Are Pets Considered Property in Ontario?

Although the emotional bonds formed between pets and their owners can be strong and often play a significant role in questions of pet ownership over the course of a separation or divorce, courts in Ontario do not consider pets to be a part of the family unit in the same way children are. Instead, under family law, pets are regarded as property. Thus, pet access and ownership arrangements are normally settled as property claims.

In the case of Coates v. Dickson, 2021 ONSC 992, the court established a set of factors that may help determine pet ownership during and after a separation or divorce. These factors include:

  • Any agreements that the separating parties may have made in relation to ongoing ownership of the pet
  • Which of the parties adopted the pet
  • Which of the parties was primarily involved in raising the pet
  • Which of the parties provided primary “care and control” over the pet
  • Who was primarily responsible for paying expenses related to the pet
  • Where the pet lived during the parties’ separation
  • Other pertinent information regarding the pet’s status during the course of the separation
  • Whether the separating couple has a child whose access to the pet may be relevant
  • And more

Every case is different, and the particular circumstances of your separation or divorce may influence the final outcome of your pet ownership arrangement. Contact our family lawyers today to schedule your initial consultation.

Pet Ownership in Domestic Violence Disputes

In a case of domestic violence, there may be additional considerations regarding pet ownership. A dangerous or threatening situation can have devastating consequences not only for a targeted partner, but also for any animals the separating couple have shared. An individual who enacts abuse against their partner may also carry out violence directly towards a pet. Moreover, this person might withhold access to a pet in an attempt to inflict emotional distress upon their former partner.

It may be possible for an individual leaving a situation of domestic violence to include their pet in their protective measures. This may involve a restraining order or a protective order against the offending spouse. Maintaining ownership of a pet may provide peace of mind for a survivor of domestic abuse, especially if the well-being of the pet is a concern.

Steps to Take to Maintain Ownership of Your Pet

Because pets are considered property in Ontario, providing effective proof that you own the pet may strengthen your case towards retaining ownership. Many factors may influence the context of your case. Contact our family lawyers to discuss which steps may best benefit you.

The following steps may help build a case for your right to claim a pet following your separation or divorce:

  • Keep official records of your pet’s adoption, proof purchase, registration papers, and any other relevant documents. It may be relevant whether you already had the pet when you entered into the relationship, or whether you and your former spouse adopted the pet together.
  • Document any financial contributions you have made towards the care of your pet over the course of your relationship with your former spouse. This may include the costs of food, medication, veterinary bills, grooming, and more. Documentation may include receipts, bank statements, or other forms of physical evidence of financial transactions.
  • Draft a separation or cohabitation agreement with your former spouse, outlining directions as to the future of your pet should you separate or divorce. Having written documentation in place as to the future of your pet’s ownership can be helpful in reducing the stress of decision-making should your relationship end.

How Might a Family Lawyer Help?

While court intervention may be an option for separating couples looking to settle a pet ownership dispute, the process can be expensive and time-consuming. Depending on the circumstances, it may be in your best interests to consider collaborating with your former spouse on an agreement outside of court.

The process of family mediation involves the separating couple working with an impartial third party to come to an agreement as to the terms of their separation or divorce. This agreement may include a determination of their pet’s future ownership structure. A pet ownership plan may resemble the kinds of agreements pertaining to shared children. Through the process of mediation, a family law lawyer may be able to help the separating couple decide on where the pet will live, when each party may have access to the pet, and who will be primarily responsible for making decisions regarding the pet’s well-being.

Contact our family lawyers at Gelman & Associates today to discuss the particulars of your case, and learn how we might be able to help you.

Contact Gelman & Associates for a Consultation About Pet Ownership Agreements in Ontario

If you are currently undergoing a separation or divorce and have questions about the rightful ownership of a shared pet, Gelman & Associates family lawyers may be able to help. Disagreements over pet ownership can be confusing, especially during an emotional time. Our family lawyers may be able to help ease your transition with clear, informed guidance.

If you would like to learn more or discuss the specifics of your case, contact us to schedule a consultation with our Ontario family lawyers today.

Disclaimer: For specific legal advice on your family law matter, please consult with a family law lawyer. The content in this article is not intended to act as legal advice and is instead intended to act as a general overview of a legal topic.

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