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Judge rules pets are property during divorce hearing

Dividing up the marital assets can be a contentious process. In fact, deciding who gets what might be the hardest part of a divorce. Emotional attachment to particular items may make them difficult to part with. While most pet owners would not count their animal companions as possessions, a judge just east of Alberta recently ruled that the law sees them as such.

A husband and wife in Saskatchewan chose to get a divorce, which led to the question of what was to become of their three dogs. One of the three is apparently elderly and ill, and it was determined it would stay with the wife. The couple decided to argue over custody of the other two dogs in court. In fact, the wife and her lawyers wished the proceedings to be treated just like a child custody matter. As part of her case, the wife submitted a document detailing the acquisition by her husband of four cats during their years together, and accusing him of being "improperly inattentive" to the cats.

In August, the judge issued a 15-page ruling on the matter in which he declared that pets do not have familial rights. He provided a list of distinctions between children and pets as part of his explanation for his decision. The couple was also admonished for wasting time and resources. He even warned them that to leave a decision of this nature to the courts meant risking having the dogs sold and the proceeds split between the two, just like any other marital possession.

A divorce is an emotional event, not just because of the end of a marriage, but also because of the significant changes brought with it, including the dividing of treasured belongings and beloved pets. Couples who separate in Alberta would do well to try and make decisions about their assets outside of a courtroom. Mediation might be an option for some. Whatever path is chosen, having a skilled family law attorney to help may make matters less complicated. 

Source: CBC News - Saskatchewan, "Judge rules dogs should not be treated like kids", Geoff Leo, Dec. 18, 2016

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