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What Happens to Animals in a Divorce?

In 2020, the divorce rate in Canada was the lowest in a generation. Not since 1973 have divorces been as rare. The declining divorce rate has to do with younger people waiting longer to get married.

Divorce still happens, though, and it often affects everyone in the family. This includes children and pets. Scientists have filled up whole books' worth of research about how divorce affects children, but what about family pets?

Who gets the dog or cat in a divorce, if anyone? Also, how is that determined? What are the criteria?

We'll discuss this whole process and how it often turns out here.

The Strange Legal Place of Pets

The legal status of pets in Canada is strange. Technically, they're considered property under Canadian law. There are many who wish to change their status to that of family members, but this is still a rarity in most places.

There have been changes to the divorce laws in the past few years, but they mostly concern children. Pets still aren't recognized as living household members under the law.

Being considered property and living creatures at the same time makes things complicated. In theory, the pet will go to whichever party owns the pet. If your name is on the adoption papers, the animal is yours.

Conditions of Divorce

Canada has a no-fault divorce system, and that system only recognizes one condition for divorce. The justification for divorce in Canada is marriage breakdown.

To qualify for marriage breakdown, one of three things must have occurred: Cruelty/abuse, adultery, and not living with your spouse for over a year. Many couples opt for the latter because it's easy to prove and doesn't make anybody look bad.

Divorces based on separation also make dividing up assets and determining custody easier. While the courts see our animals as property, we see them as family members or close friends.

Effects of Pets

When determining the custody of pets, you also need to consider the role they play in your family. Pets help us stave off depression and lower our risks of suffering a heart attack or stroke. They also reduce feelings of loneliness, which has been a major issue these past few years.

Pets have a knack for stealing the hearts of everyone around them. Perhaps that's why over half of Canadian households report having a dog or cat. Given our widespread love of furry creatures, it might come as no surprise that many people choose to establish joint custody of pets.

Others believe that custody of pets should follow custody of children. Children exposed to pets at an early age are more likely to develop into healthy adults.

Family Pets and Divorce

In cases of divorce, family pets revert to being the property of the original owner. It's important to note that issues of pet ownership often don't make it to court. Many people choose to settle these issues out of court.

Divorce laws might change in the future to recognize pets as family members, but this isn't the case yet. Therefore, it might be in your pets' best interest not to let the courts decide.

You can learn more about divorce laws and other legal issues by reading our blog. If you need a lawyer for an upcoming case, feel free to contact us at First West Law.


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