Pets – Family Property or Children?

While reading the news last week, I came upon a CBC article of a woman suing her employer for being refused paid maternity leave for her pet (from CBC.ca). I highly doubt that she’ll get anything other than awareness to animal law from her claim. However, it does make you question whether family pets are considered children in the eyes of the law.

We treat our beloved pets as family; however, the law considers them family property. Because of their high sentimental value to their owners, some couples subject their pets to provisions in their marriage and separation agreements, such as custodial or visitation rights. In Warnica v. Gering, a dog named Tuxedo became the subject of a custody battle. Both of the parties involved wanted sole or shared custody of the dog. The applicant claimed that the dog was a gift to him by her and the defendant claimed that she purchased Tuxedo as a companion for herself. And in that particular case, the couple in question don’t even fulfill the common-law status. Nevertheless, the judge dismissed the applicant’s claim and gave the respondent sole ownership of the dog.

Because of the emotional ties that we have with our animals, clauses involving them are becoming commonplace in marriage and separation agreements. I recently attended a friend’s wedding, both of whom were animal lovers. During the wedding’s reception, there was talk of what would happen to their pets if they separate. Considering they had 2 dogs and 3 cats amongst each other, they thought ahead and put in a clause in their marriage agreement as to what would happen should they separate and/or add to the menagerie. The newlyweds also said that there would be visitation rights to their “furry babies” should they separate.

In a divorce proceeding, it’s in the best interest of the pet owners to come to an agreement. They should think about what’s best for their pet and compromise on issues that they don’t agree with. Sentiments aside, if you decide to take your battle to the court, be prepared as the defendant of Kitchen v. MacDonald had done with physical evidence, such as veterinary bills, licenses, and invoices to costs associated with your pet’s needs, to prove that you have a beneficial or legal interest in your pet. Because in the end, the law is impartial to them, however much beloved they are to you.

 

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Richter Trial Law