While many people see their pets as an integral member of their family, you may be surprised to learn that the Court has typically viewed pets solely as property. That is to say that, traditionally, the partner who paid for the pet was the one who retained ownership upon the breakdown of a relationship, with limited exceptions such as evidence that the pet was a gift from one partner to the other.
In the recent case of Coates v. Dickinson, 2021 ONSC 992, which was followed soon after by Duboff v. Simpson 2021 ONSC 4970, the Court expanded the traditional approach to determining pet ownership by taking other factors into consideration in addition to determining who purchased the pet.
Factors that should be considered when determining which partner retains ownership of the pet following the breakdown of a relationship include, but are not limited to:
- Was the animal owned or possessed by one of the parties before the relationship began?
- Was there an express or implied agreement as to ownership, made either at the time the animal was acquired or after?
- What is the nature of the relationship between the people contesting ownership at the time the animal was first acquired?
- Who purchased and/or raised the animal?
- Who exercised care and control of the animal?
- Who bore the burden of the care and comfort of the animal?
- Who paid for the expenses related to the animal’s upkeep?
- Was the animal gifted by the original owner to the other person at any point?
- What happened to the animal after the relationship between the litigants changed?
- Are there any other indications of ownership or evidence of agreement relevant to who has or should have the ownership of the animal?
The above factors are considered together, and no one factor is paramount to the others. Depending on the facts of each particular circumstance, other factors may also be relevant. As with any family law matter, each case will depend on the facts of your particular situation.
If you have questions about retaining the family pet after separation or any other questions related to a separation, the family law lawyers at HGR Graham Partners LLP can assist.
This article is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice. Readers with concerns about how this affects particular situations or transactions should obtain the independent review and advice of legal counsel.