The Canadian Bar Association
Family

Pet schedule a matter for divorcing couple, not courts

Although one U.S. jurisdiction has proposed legislation that would require judges to take the best interest of pets into account in a divorce, Ontario courts have made it clear that this is an issue that the former spouses need to work out themselves, Toronto-area family lawyer Andrew Feldstein tells the Jerry Agar show.

“In Ontario, it’s really simple. The Court of Appeal has said the courts in Ontario are not going to use taxpayers’ money to deal with schedules for pets,” Feldstein, principal of Feldstein Family Law Group, tells listeners.

“It’s one of those situations where it goes to that old saying that possession is nine-tenths of the law — so if you have possession of the family pet, you’re probably going to end up with the family pet," he adds.

Feldstein tells listeners that he has written agreements in the past that set out a schedule for the family pet. “And the pet goes back and forth between two people — ‘it’s my weekend, it's your weekend’, who gets to walk the dog on which day, it’s very rare that that happens, but it does happen on occasion. Some people will say ‘the pets go with the kids.’

“Sometimes it’s actually quite the reversal in terms of the argument, where somebody complains about the cost of the family pet. It’s an older dog, constantly needing to go to the vet, and somebody says, ‘well, I’m keeping the pet for the kids and I want you to kick in some money for the health care of the dog.’”

At the same time, he explains, given that legal fees are expensive, most people are getting the message not to fight about their pet — and the schedule usually seems to fall into place.

However, Feldstein tells the cautionary tale of an individual who doctored a letter from a vet that claimed the family dog had been put down, in order to keep the dog and stop the fight.

“Everything about the document was a fake. No charges followed that except it led down a road that there were other documents that were submitted that were not legitimate that cost the client a lot of money in the end, so the lie over the dog actually cost that client significantly.”

In general, he explains, disputes during the divorce process often aren’t just about money.

“The fight is regularly about power, control and somebody having that feeling that they want to win, or somebody having the feeling that they don’t want to give up the fight because the fight is the last piece of the connection they have to their former spouse.

“Different people are over the relationship in a different period of time, so the person that initiates a divorce has usually already mourned the loss of the divorce and the breakup of the family, and the person who was just told ‘I don’t want to be married to you anymore’ is just starting down that path of mourning the loss of the relationship and they don’t want to give it up yet,” explains Feldstein.

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