Break-ups and Separation: Who Gets to Keep the Pets?

Believe it or Not

During a separation or divorce, what happens to a shared pet can be an important issue. And yet, the law is silent on the matter of an animal’s custody if spouses do not agree on the question. Instead, if the courts are asked to decide, they usually look at the rules that apply to objects owned by the spouses. The following is an example taken from an actual case.

Visiting rights to three pooches

Last year, a couple separated after having lived outside of Quebec for several years due to Spouse A’s career as a professional hockey player.  When their relationship broke down, Spouse B returned to live in Quebec, bringing with her the couple’s three golden retrievers. Both spouses considered the dogs to be their “children”. Spouse B refused to let Spouse A visit the dogs.

In the context of the divorce, Spouse A asked the court to decide who would have custody of the three dogs and what visiting rights the other spouse would have.

In the eyes of the courts, dogs aren’t children

The court found that a dog, no matter how endearing, cannot legally be treated as a child. It pointed out that the law states that courts can only make custody decisions about children.

The court also noted that, while the Civil Code of Quebec recognizes that an animal is not an object but a sentient being, the rules that apply to animals are still the same as those that apply to objects owned by the couple.

So, the court concluded that it couldn’t decide custody and visiting rights for the three dogs. Instead, it said that the fate of the three golden retrievers would have to be decided later, together with that of the couple’s other property. On that note, the judge mentioned that the couple do not agree on who owns the dogs.

If you want to read the full judgment, available in French only, you can find it here.