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Finding Middle Ground: Co-Parenting Your Pet After a Divorce or Separation



Starting January 2024, in British Columbia, the emotional and often complex issue of pet custody during family breakups is set to become more manageable, thanks to significant changes in family law. The BC Government announced these changes, signaling a pivotal shift in how pets are viewed within the legal framework of separation and divorce.


Historically, pet ownership disputes post-breakup were treated similarly to property division in court. However, the recent amendments introduced by Sharma to the B.C. Family Law Act last spring are set to change this narrative. These amendments are a recognition of the invaluable role pets play in family dynamics and aim to provide clearer guidance for both judges and individuals involved.


Under the new regulations, the courts will now take into account factors such as a person's ability and willingness to care for the pet, the relationship between a child and the pet, and potential risks of animal cruelty. 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.


This holistic approach is a significant leap from the previous property-centric view, ensuring that the well-being of the pets and the emotional bonds they share with family members are given due consideration.


These amendments are a timely response to this trend, offering a structured and empathetic approach to resolving pet custody issues.


British Columbia is leading the way in adapting its family law to recognize the diverse forms of families, including those with pets. By considering the unique bond between pets and family members, the province is ensuring that the justice system offers support rather than additional stress during the challenging times of separation or divorce. This progressive step acknowledges the evolving nature of families and the integral role pets play in our lives.


Couples are advised to independently negotiate the terms of pet custody or ownership. This can involve options such as co-ownership, alternating possession, or granting one partner sole possession of the pet. However, in situations where an agreement cannot be reached, the courts will intervene, utilizing the newly implemented considerations. It's important to note that these changes are not applicable to service animals such as guide dogs or to farm livestock.


In contrast to situations involving children, the court is not authorized to mandate joint custody for pets. Arrangements for sharing the pet must be established privately, outside the judicial system.


For more information about situations arising your pet after a separation, book a consultation with one of our highly skilled pet family lawyers at Silaw Group Family Lawyers in Surrey, British Columbia.

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