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Pet custody: who gets the dog in a divorce?

Fido is sitting in the corner looking at his human parents and wondering what all the fuss is about.

Little does he know that the raised voices are all about him and the future of his living arrangements. His owners are getting a divorce and they’re embroiled in a battle for his custody. There are few things that get as heated in a discussion about who gets what in a divorce settlement than with where the pet(s) will be living. Emotions can run rampant in this instance, especially if the couple bought the dog together, shared in his training and have looked after him together.

Doesn’t have to be divisive

As more millennials choose not to have children, their pets take the place. Having furry kids to think about during a separation or divorce doesn’t have to create more stress between the couple than there already is. The dog is loved by both people and as with children, joint custody of the dog is definitely an option — one that is probably in the best interest of man’s and woman’s best friend as well.

When the couple can’t work it out amicably, things might not end up so neatly, especially if a court decides who has the legal rights to keep Fido. For instance, a Saskatchewan judge didn’t take well to a couple’s petition to family court to decide where their two pooches should stay while their divorce was being finalized. In this case, the judge determined that dogs are property and ultimately decided the pups should stay with the wife’s parents.

Litigation blues

If sharing isn’t working, litigation may be necessary. However, when pets are the couple’s “babies” and a harmonious custody solution can’t be reached, it may be necessary to call lawyers to the rescue. There are a high number of court cases in Canada where pets are the contentious issue. The law in Canada states that pets are property.

One divorcing, childless couple had adopted a number of pets. The wife said her husband was not very attentive to their four cats, despite evidence showing the man was, in fact, a cat person. The fight though, was with the couple’s dogs. He didn’t want the cats. He did however, want visitation with their three dogs. The judged ruled that the dogs should live with the wife and that the husband should have visitation.

You want me to pay for what?

Even when custody issues are ironed out regarding family pets, things don’t always end there. There have been instances in Canada where the party who has custody asks the other for spousal support for the pet(s). In 2015, a woman asked her husband for $755 a month to help support their 10 cats and five dogs. The woman’s lawyer argued she and her husband purchased the pets together and the separation had created financial hardship for her. She was ultimately awarded $5,000 per month in spousal support, although it was unclear how much of that included support for the furry ones.