When a marriage is ending, who gets the family pets? Are they merely property to be divided between the parties separating, or are they more than just property and the best interests of the family pet, like the best interests of the children, ought to be taken into consideration when deciding who gets the family pet?
Currently, the law in Ontario is that family pets are no different than property. That means that, generally, whoever brought the animal into the marriage will retain ownership of that animal. Cases where the animal was brought into an existing marriage are obviously more difficult. There are some judges who have recognized that family pets are more than just property and have attempted to consider what was in the best interests of the animal when deciding custody of that animal, however, that is not currently the law in Ontario. Treating pets as property may seem antiquated but with the various issues to deal with during a divorce, keeping pets out of litigation is likely the wisest course.
An alternative route such as mediation may provide a more cooperative, less-rigid context in which to settle pet-related issues. In mediation, ex-spouses can have greater flexibility to contemplate the best interests of the pet and create customized solutions for custody, visitation and financial support.