Pets have no rights in the family law process, says judge

On behalf of Gary Kirk of Kirk Montoute Dawson LLP posted in Family Law on Friday, January 13, 2017.

When two people divorce, all of their accumulated assets have to be divided between them. This includes everything from the matrimonial home right down to the cutlery. Somewhere in between are the many items people become emotionally attached to over the years; and then there are pets, which seem to occupy a grey area somewhere betwixt family and possession. Not so, according to a judge presiding in Alberta’s eastern neighbour, who decided dogs have no legal standing in the family law process.

A childless Saskatchewan couple recently chose to divorce after being married for 16 years. The couple owned three dogs, but could not agree on where two of them would live. The husband applied to the court for ownership of one of the two dogs. The wife, however, chose to contest the application and requested the judge treat the case like a child custody case.

The woman presented a document to the judge in which she made her husband out to be a cat person at heart, who should only be allowed visitation rights. In his decision, the judge explained that while pets are protected by the law from neglect and cruelty, they are not given the same rights as children. Going a step further, he warned the couple that the dogs could be treated like any other possession for which ownership was contested in court: if a decision could not be reached, they could be sold and the profits divided between the former owners.

The clear lesson from this case is decisions over possession of martial assets in which either or both parties are emotionally invested should be made outside a courtroom. The family law process offers alternatives to litigation, including mediation, which are better suited to such decisions. A law firm experienced with family law in Alberta is an excellent place to turn for assistance with similar matters.

Source:, “Judge rules pet dogs cannot be treated as children in Canada custody dispute“, Ashifa Kassam, Dec. 19, 2016

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