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Separation and divorce

Who keeps the pet when a couple separates or divorces?

Dog, cat, bird or even rabbit – your pet is a part of the family! And if you and your spouse separate or divorce, you’ll have to agree on who keeps your furry or feathered companion.

Do you have a contract stating who will keep your pet?

Some couples draw up a contract stating who will keep their pet in the case of a break-up.

If you’ve done this, you and your ex will have to respect the contract. If one spouse refuses to do so, the other can go to court to ask that it be respected.

En apprendre plus

Divorce and separation: the Montreal SPCA creates a standard animal custody agreement (Montreal SPCA)

Who owns the animal?

The first step in deciding what will happen with the animal is determining who owns it.

Depending on the situation, you, your ex, or your child may be the owner of the animal. Or you might share ownership.

To determine who is the owner, you can ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Who paid to purchase the pet?
  • For whom was it purchased?In whose name is it registered?
  • Who has been paying for other pet-related expenses (food, veterinarian, etc.)?
  • Who has taken care of the pet everyday?

What if you can’t agree?

If you and your ex disagree as to who owns the animal, or about what should happen to the animal, there are ways to address the problem.

You can ask a mediator to help you reach an agreement.

This process can help you to decide:

  • who will keep the animal,
  • who will be responsible for pet-related expenses, and in what proportion.

If you wish, you can draw up a schedule for “joint custody” or “visiting rights”, for example, to take your dog for a walk a few times a week.

Important

For some types of animals, joint custody may not be recommended. You can consult a veterinarian or an animal behaviour specialist to determine the best option for your pet.

If no agreement is possible, you can go to court to have a judge decide the matter.

A judge can, for example:

  • determine who is the owner and order that they be given possession of the pet,
  • order that the contact stating how custody will be shared, in case of a break-up, be respected.

However, a judge cannot grant “custody” of your pet or “visiting rights” if these were never mentioned in a contract.

What if the pet was bought or adopted for your child?

In that case, a judge could decide that the pet will remain with the child. 

A judge can also order that pet-related expenses be shared between you and your ex.

This might be because the pet’s presence is beneficial to the child’s health, for example, because it’s a service animal or provides a therapeutic benefit.

Resources

Are you looking for a lawyer, a notary, a mediator or a psychologist?

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Warning

The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.