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“Who’s Keeping Fluffy?” Understanding Ontario Pet Custody Laws Amidst Evolving Changes in BC

Updated: Jan 23


With more than 55% of Canadian households having a cat or dog, the stage is set for a rising number of pet custody disputes in family law, posing unique challenges for courts trying to decide what's best for our furry friends. Currently, in Ontario, pets are considered possessions, like furniture or a TV. But change is on the horizon. British Columbia is introducing new rules recognizing that pets are more than just personal "stuff" – they're like family members. As the legal landscape evolves to embrace the importance of pet custody, dive into discovering how your furry confidant might be impacted by separation today and explore the interesting changes ahead.


Ontario's Current Pet Custody Rules:


In Ontario, when a couple splits, pets are treated like regular belongings. Usually, the person who bought the pet or got it as a special gift, ends up with custody. Typically, this means someone has to endure the heartbreak of losing a pet they both love dearly.


But things are changing across the country. In Baker v Harmina, a Newfoundland case, the judge refused to grant joint custody to the couple who shared a beloved bernedoodle, Mya. What made this case stand out was the dissenting opinion that recognized the deep emotional bond between a person and their pet. It shed light on the importance of considering this connection when granting custody.


It seems that judges in other parts of the country are beginning to notice shortcomings in how the law addresses pets, and they're starting to think about what would be best for the couple and their furry companion.


Changes Coming in British Columbia:


British Columbia is stepping forward by acknowledging pets as sentient beings. Starting May 11, 2023, amendments to the Family Law Act in British Columbia are reshaping how we view pet ownership. The updated laws recognize that pets are more than possessions; they're considered part of the family. While joint ownership isn't allowed by the courts, the changes require a more in-depth analysis of compassionate consideration. Here's a breakdown of what to expect:


1. Pet Guardianship Model: Instead of treating pets like objects, the new law views them as family members.  It recognizes pet care as a two-person effort.


2. Best Interests of the Pet: Similar to how courts decide what's best for kids in custody cases, the new law prioritizes the pet's well-being. Factors include the bond between a child and the pet and which spouse can best meet the pet's needs.


3. Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution: The new law encourages open discussions and finding solutions without heading to court. This approach alleviates pressure for everyone involved and puts the well-being of the pet at the forefront.


Implications & Things to Think About:


The recent changes in British Columbia indicate a positive shift in recognizing the significance of pets in our lives. While Ontario has yet to implement similar changes, British Columbia's example illustrates how the legal landscape is adapting to acknowledge the vital role pets play in households. Determining the best course of action for a pet can be complex and may vary between provinces. To ensure consistency and fairness nationwide, a compassionate yet standardized approach to pet custody would relieve anxiety for separated pet owners.

As legal developments progress, pet owners must be aware of their rights and make decisions prioritizing the well-being of their beloved companions.


Authored by Kim Daneshvari





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