Who gets the cat when you break up?

You’re moving out and you want to take the cat. But your ex says no, that cat is mine!  Legally who gets the cat after a breakup?

Your pet is a family member and you’re a pet “parent”,  not just an “owner.” You love your pet almost as much as a child and its safety and happiness matters.  Having your pet may help you—and your children—get through the breakup.

With children, the norm after separation is shared parenting by both parents. But as old fashioned and surprising as it seems, the law in BC does not treat pets like children.

Instead, BC law treats pets as property.  Pets are owned by one partner or the other and that person has the entire right to the pet. The other partner has no right to visitation and the Courts won’t make any such order.

So, if your ex has a receipt showing they paid for the cat, are you out of luck?

Fortunately, no!  There is still hope!

Even though pets are “property” under BC law, they are still undeniably different than a table, car or a bank account.  When it comes to pets, the Courts can consider many more factors, in an effort to be fair to everyone involved.   After all, one partner might have bought the cat 10 years ago, but the other partner has cared for it ever since.

So how would a court decide who gets the cat? Here are some of the factors that the BC courts  may consider:

  • Did one of you bring the cat into the relationship?
  • Did you and your ex make an agreement about who owned the cat when you bought it, or at a later time?
  • Was the cat a gift from one of you to the other?
  • Which of you was responsible for the cat’s care?
  • Who paid for the cat’s expenses (food, vet bills, grooming, etc.) during your relationship?
  • Who has cared for the cat and paid for the cat’s upkeep since your relationship ended?

If these factors don’t weigh in your favour to get the cat,  there is still another way to handle it.

Even though the court won’t make a “pet custody order” and put a “pet visitation schedule” in place for the other spouse, you and your ex can make an out-of-court agreement for this.

You can create a shared pet parenting agreement, negotiate a schedule that works for you both, and decide how you will split pet expenses.  In order to make an agreement binding and enforceable, it is best to put all of the details in writing, and get legal advice on it.  You may also want to get legal advice before you break up, on how to prove pet ownership if it might become a dispute.

Consider reaching out to an experienced family lawyer to talk strategy and get advice. Our family lawyers with offices in Vernon, Kelowna and Lake Country can help you create a written agreement for your cat’s schedule and care. Give us a call today.

Author: Benjamin J. Noorduyn