PETS CONSIDERED FAMILY MEMBERS UNDER BC LAW

May 3, 2024

Marie-Hélène Haché

Blog

Pets and other animals can be very important to us. This is why British Columbia amended it’s Family Law Act to give pets a special status.

However, in New Brunswick, our little furry friends remain personal property, bearing the same weight as objects.

For more on the state of the law on pet custody in New Brunswick, consult our Pets and Separation post.

Best interests for all concerned is the legal test

In the new changes to the BC Family Law Act, the law will refer to family pets as companion animals. The legislation provides several factors for courts to consider, when facing a dispute regarding the custody of the family pet. 

The considered factors are the following: 

  • Who took cared for the family pet
  • The circumstances when the pet was acquired
  • The risk and/or history of family violence
  • The children’s relationship with the family pet
  • The ability of each parties to care for the needs of the family pet

The court can take into consideration any other circumstances that the court finds relevant in order to determine the best interest of the family pet. In some recent exceptional cases, Judges are starting to take into consideration the family pet’s best interest instead of looking at them as personal property and hearing evidence. 

Veterinarian experts who testify in BC generally agree that sharing a companion animal will be done to pacify the spouses, not for the well-being of the pet. Most couples will encounters new behavioural issues, scheduling conflicts and disagreements about the rules of care, housing and such when sharing custody of a pet.

The Court factors not only the pet but also all the humans, spouses and children.

Disposition of Pets in Domestic Agreements

In this new BC legislation, the Amended Family Law Act specifically provides that parties may make domestic agreements respecting the division of property and include their family pet. The legislation provides that the parties can agree to jointly own or share possession of the family pet. They can also give exclusive ownership to only one of the parties if wishes. 

The outcome will vary greatly depending on where in Canada the litigation takes place.

When drafting a cohabitation agreement for a client, we always ask about your furry friends. If you are a pawrent, reach out!