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How separation and divorce in Ontario affects pet-loving couples

Part of the extreme distress that often characterizes the dissolution of a marriage is realizing that virtually everything that made up the warp and woof of one's daily life will now be legally viewed as divisible. Furniture that one spouse may regard as a sentimental keepsake and the other spouse views indifferently tallies up as a shared asset. As such, it may unexpectedly create a potentially fractious scenario. Ontario couples embarking on separation and divorce may encounter one dismaying discovery after another.

Without adequate preparation and appropriate legal advice, dismantling a marriage may be the cause of misperceptions and highly charged emotions. Previously agreed-upon decisions about assets acquired during the union or brought into the marriage may now elicit intense disagreement. Even with the best intentions to move forward cooperatively, a couple may find that the process of separation and divorce evokes memories and emotions that can thwart their progress.

Becoming familiar with how marital property is perceived and adjudicated under Ontario laws can itself be cause for consternation. As viewed by the law, such property includes pets. This is only one startling piece of information that an experienced Ontario family law practitioner may need to address with a divorcing client. According to statistics collected earlier this year, Canadians share their homes with 7.6 million doggy pets which, overall, translates into 41 per cent of the country's households.

In the neighboring province of Quebec, a bill currently under review by committee seeks to define pets as sentient beings rather than chattel. It remains to be seen whether such a law would filter into the perception of property embedded in the statutory laws governing separation and divorce. For the time being, no such law is being considered in Ontario. Securing legal advice could help avoid discovering such troubling information unexpectedly. In many instances, mediation is a viable alternative when heartfelt issues, such as a beloved pet's future, are at issue.

Source: findlaw.ca, "Pet custody: who gets the dog in a divorce?", Accessed on Aug. 14, 2017

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