Pets and Divorce: How Family Law Addresses Pet Custody

Pets are often cherished members of the family, but in the eyes of the law, they’re considered property rather than children. This distinction can lead to unique challenges when it comes to determining custody in family law matters. At Galbraith Family Law, we understand the importance of addressing these issues with care and sensitivity. Here’s what you need to know about who gets custody of pets in family law matters.

Legal Principles and Considerations

The law treats pets, including dogs, as personal property. This means that disputes over pet ownership are resolved based on ownership or agreements about ownership, rather than considering the best interests of the animal. Factors considered in determining ownership include:

Prior ownership or possession: Who owned or cared for the pet before the relationship began?
Agreements regarding ownership: Any express or implied agreements about who owns the pet?
Nature of the relationship at acquisition: What was the relationship between the parties when the pet was acquired?
Contributions to care: Who contributed to the purchase, care, and control of the pet?
Financial responsibility: Who paid for the pet’s expenses?
Changes in ownership: What happened to the pet after the relationship ended?

These factors help courts determine ownership in a fair and just manner, with a focus on ensuring the welfare of the animal.

Court Approach and Rulings

Family law courts prioritize expediency in resolving pet custody disputes, aiming to prevent prolonged litigation over “pet access.” While pets are considered property, courts also mandate that animals be treated humanely, discouraging any “self-help” actions in disputes.

Recent cases illustrate how courts approach pet custody matters:

In Schindle v Schindle, the Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that while pets are treated as property, making custody rulings in a property matter is inappropriate. The parties were left to determine ownership themselves.
Ireland v. Ireland saw the Court award ownership of the pet to the plaintiff based on factors like primary caregiving and future plans, emphasizing that child custody principles do not apply to pets.

In navigating pet custody matters in family law, it’s essential to understand the legal principles and court approach. While pets are considered property, courts also consider their welfare and the circumstances surrounding ownership. At Galbraith Family Law, we’re here to provide guidance and support in resolving pet custody disputes with compassion and efficiency. If you’re facing a pet custody issue, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance.


Schindle v Schindle, 2021 ABQB 99 (CanLII)

Ireland v. Ireland, 2010 SKQB 454 (CanLII)

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