You have separated from your partner and you would like to keep the pooch. What are your rights?
Currently, there is no legislation dealing specifically with pets. Because of this, pets are treated like property and the provisions provided in the Alberta Matrimonial Property Act apply. Generally, the pet may be considered property that is excluded from the equal division of matrimonial property if the pet was brought into the relationship by one of the parties. In this situation, the party that brought the pet into the relationship would retain the pet upon separation. If the pet was purchased after marriage or during an adult interdependent relationship, the court will consider who contributed more financially and will consider which party developed a stronger bond with the pet.
There is not an abundance of case law in existence regarding pets and the rulings have varied based on the circumstances. Some case law has suggested that the owner with a stronger bond with the pet ought to retain possession if the pet was purchased during the marriage or adult interdependent relationship. Other case law indicates that a schedule in which both parties are permitted time with the pet is an equitable trade-off in situations where both parties express a strong desire to retain possession of the pet. There are no definitive rules or laws when it comes to pet custody and the court often recommends that the parties come up with an equitable agreement on their own.
Attending court for any reason tends to incur high legal fees and stress. The following options ought to be considered with regards to potential pet issues upon separation:
1. Create a joint custody agreement as part of a settlement agreement; or
2. Anticipate the issue in advance and execute a cohabitation agreement, prenuptial agreement, or marriage contract in which provisions are included that outlines ownership or access to any pets the parties own or may come to own.
If you and your ex-partner are unable to agree on pet custody following the breakdown of your relationship, then I recommend contacting a lawyer that can provide you with a full breakdown of your rights and options based on your individual circumstances. To speak with a lawyer at Proskiw Law, please call 780-665-4944.