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Who gets to keep the pets following a divorce or separation?

If you own pets, you probably have countless memories of playing with them, walking them and helping them get well when they were sick. It's natural to feel a sense of loss when you are no longer able to enjoy a pet's company anymore.

For many people, this happens to be the case following a separation or divorce. Provincial laws generally state that pets are considered the property of the person who purchased the animal. However, many separated couples across Canada are trying to make the case that pets should not be treated this way.

The Current Legislation

The outcome of a recent case out of Newfoundland treated pets as property despite a strong argument asking otherwise, according to an article posted on CTVNews.ca.

The case analysed a woman who took care of her partner's dog while the partner was at work. But because the woman did not purchase the dog, she had no rights to any ownership following their separation.

Technically speaking, this is legally accurate. However, one of the judges disagreed with the application of treating pets as property. Unfortunately, there was no applicable legislation to support this opposing viewpoint.

The Case for Pet Custody Measures

According to the judge who dissented, couples who share a pet provide love and affection that closely resembles caring for a child, regardless of who brought the pet into the relationship. Even though there is no legislation to support this view, that does not mean that pet owners are completely out of luck.

A Possible Alternative

One idea presented in the article is for couples to draft a marriage or cohabitation agreement with a legal professional and include a clause for pets. You can create your own co-ownership arrangement or visitation rights.

These domestic contracts generally allow a couple to decide on how they want to divide certain assets and property in the event they separate. The idea is, if you helped create the terms of such a contract, you will be more likely to abide by them.

However, this may not resolve every issue of pet custody. If a dispute is brought to the courts, the law will treat pets as they are currently categorized, as property. As more separation and divorce cases question how pets are defined by the law, it may indicate to the courts a shift in how society views pets in relation to other property.

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