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Solomon's choice: Pet custody in Alberta divorce

Sometimes the laws of the land don't quite get it right. At least, in the eyes of pet owners, who are often astonished to learn that family law views pets as property. This is still the case in Alberta for spouses undergoing divorce and who may battle for guardianship of a beloved pet or pets.

In what may become a landmark case in the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal, the court adjudicated according to this traditional view of companion animals as chattel. As such, "purchase" and "title" were applied to the pet. However, one of the three judges dissented, writing that the "burden of care and comfort for the animal" should be taken into account. It's true that one doesn't take the couch out for walks, and that a couch is not protected under other laws, both provincial and federal, against cruelty and abuse.

On the other hand, in almost every province, such cases have been viewed as "a waste of the court's time" with one judge writing that "this sort of application should not even be put before" the court. Applications for custody of or visitation rights to a pet are not easily resolved. More complex scenarios can arise when children who love their pets may be separated from them under a child custody agreement. 

Even more controversial is when spousal abuse includes threats to a pet -- a situation so far unacknowledged by the law that treats pets as property. Nonetheless, an experienced family law lawyer might provide insights and options that would otherwise not occur to a pet-owning client. When divorce is in the offing, an Alberta family law firm could conceivably help find a way forward even for Rex.

Source: theglobeandmail.com, "What the law doesn't understand: My dog is not a couch", Jodi Lazare and Peter Sankoff, March 23, 2018

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