Many pet owners may be surprised, and even shocked, to learn that animals are considered property in a divorce process in Ontario. In practical terms, that means that married spouses could have to fight over the family pet just like they would fight over who keeps the kitchen table when both spouses want it. Given that the pet is considered property, it is treated like any other asset and is given a value. In a case where both parties want the pet, each spouse would be entitled to 50% of the value of the pet. Unfortunately, we cannot divide a pet like we would divide a joint bank account, nor would it make sense to sell it and divide the profits equally. As such, pet owners must find a reasonable solution and there are various options available.
For common law couples (who don't normally share the value of their property unless there are joint owners), we have to determine who is the owner of the pet, and the rightful owner gets to keep the pet, without having to share its value. For example, if one spouse paid for the dog and has the receipt confirming its purchase, he or she gets to keep it (regardless of who the pet is closest with...).
Just like parenting disputes for children, "ownership disputes" for pets can become quite emotional... If you choose to stay away from the courts to resolve your family dispute through a non-traditional process such as the ALT Divorce Way, mediation or Collaborative Family Law, you can ignore what the law says, and decide to treat your pets differently, by focusing on what is best for them. Many couples who chose the Alt Divorce Way have decided to make decisions concerning the well-being of their pets together, without regards to legal ownership, and have agreed on a schedule of time that the animals share with their "parents". Costs associated with our furry friends are also important to address. The veterinary bills could be shared equally or in proportion to each party's respective income. In the case of a horse, where there are boarding costs, veterinary bills and grooming fees, it is crucial to decide how these costs will be paid to avoid difficult circumstances for the horse (and surprises for the "parents"). Parrots are also very expensive to care for and maintain, and some species can even outlive their caretakers, so it is important to plan ahead.
As many pet owners will tell you, pets are sensitive to our emotions and some animals react negatively to a stressful separation/divorce. Your dog may decide to chew every piece of furniture in the house; your rabbit could suddenly have problems with the retention of his or her bodily fluids and some animals, like one of my three cats, just seem unfazed with everything going on around him. These furry family members also need tender loving care after the separation/divorce and should be considered during the settlement discussions.