Pet Custody Disputes

3 Ways to Resolve a Pet Custody Dispute

Our “fur babies” can very easily become a central member of our family. However, once a relationship ends and two people go their separate ways, what happens to those beloved pets?

Many people enter into a type of “custody agreement” in which both parties create terms for the shared custody of the pet. Usually these agreements involve a schedule that dictates when one party will have the pet in their home and how the parties will exchange the pet between homes.

But what happens if these agreements fall through or the relationship breaks down further and one party wishes to take full possession of the pet? While the Courts are beginning to recognize the emotional value that pets have to many people, a pet is still considered to be a piece of property in law.

In the event that you have a dispute with an ex-partner regarding the custody of a pet, before resorting to legal action you can attempt to resolve the matter in one of three ways:


In this scenario, the parties can include a clause in the Agreement stipulating that in the event of a default by one party, the other party automatically is entitled to sole custody of the pet. This ensures that, should another issue arise in the future, the parties will not end up in the same position as before. Rather, the person who was following the terms of the Agreement has a very strong claim for full possession of the pet should the other person not follow the rules.


If tensions are high between the parties and sharing custody of the pet is clearly not working, this option can help resolve the matter without needing to continue with a shared custody agreement. An offer to essentially pay for the pet back can sometimes trigger a response and lead to more meaningful discussions about pet custody. It is wise to come up with a number that is affordable to you, but also reasonable for the ex-partner to accept as compensation. As a guideline, you may wish to calculate roughly how much money the other party would have spent to date to assist with the care of the pet.


When one party refuses to honour a shared custody agreement, it may seem that the only logical course of action is to fight to get the pet back. While it is understandable that giving up on the pet is not usually a desired option, there is still an opportunity to negotiate for compensation in return for giving up the pet. This is not mandatory, but if there is a monetary amount that you would be willing to accept to walk away from any involvement with the pet and your ex-partner, you can present an offer and see if your ex-partner is willing to accept it. This does not forfeit your right to fight for custody of the pet should the other party refuse to accept your offer.

 If you find yourself in a custody battle for a pet, no matter how you choose to proceed, you should collect any and all documentation demonstrating that you own or partially own the pet. This can be the form of the pet’s registration or veterinary bills that name you as an owner. Also, create a history of events throughout your ownership of the pet outlining when you purchased the pet, any veterinary visits of note, who was responsible for purchasing food or grooming supplies, and other similar details.


If none of the options outlined above yield positive results, you should consider proceeding with a Small Claims Court action to try and get your pet back. There are risks to proceeding through the Court system in matters like this. A Deputy Judge will only look at the evidence presented by the parties and will determine who should have rightful ownership based on this evidence. You should be mindful of the fact that the Deputy Judge may be limited to only awarding you the monetary value of the pet rather than awarding custody of the pet.

Even if you decide to proceed with a Court action, this does not mean you must give up any intention of resolving the matter amicably. Sometimes it is better to attempt to negotiate a resolution even after an action has been started, rather than leave the decision in the hands of the Court.

 At the end of the day, a pet provides an emotional attachment that extends beyond ownership of property. Should you be in a position where you are fighting for custody of your pet, try negotiating using the tips above before resorting to legal intervention. If you have tried some or all of the options listed above without success, our team of experienced paralegals is able to assist in negotiations or in pursuing legal action.

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