We are very pleased to share this good news as reported on January 15, 2024 by Charlie Carey of City News. In B.C.s Family Law cases animals will no longer just be treated as “property”. That makes sense, given that they are sentient beings with emotions and capable of suffering. Unfortunately, we still have a ways to go. There is a need for them to no longer be considered property in the sense that a bike or computer is considered property under Canada’s Criminal Code, but this is an exciting first step!
As of Monday, pets in B.C. will no longer be considered “property” when determining who owns animals after a separation or divorce.
Premier David Eby says the changes come after hearing from people who have been affected by the province’s family law.
“The breakdown of a relationship, separation and divorce, is probably one of the most dramatic and difficult experiences that many people will have in their lives. It’s difficult for couples, it’s difficult for kids, it’s stressful, it’s uncertain. In some cases, it’s even dangerous for a partner in the relationship. And the justice system really needs to be there for people in distress to help and not to make things worse,” Eby said.
“The courts have traditionally treated family pets — members of the family — as possessions which resulted in huge uncertainty for people about what decisions would ultimately be made about where a pet would live. That uncertainty increases conflict when you don’t know how the courts are going to treat things.”
Eby says the Family Law Act is being updated to “ensure that there is that certainty about how pets are treated under the law.”
“There will be changes made to ensure that the health and safety of in particular children are at the center of the decisions that are made, but that pets are not treated as simply property that their special place in the family is considered by the courts,” he added.
According to the province, the changes mean the courts will now consider: each person’s ability and willingness to care for the animal; the relationship a child has with the animal; and if there are any risks of family violence or threats of cruelty to an animal.
“Spouses are encouraged to make their own agreements about companion animals, with options to jointly own, share possession or give one spouse exclusive ownership or possession of the pet,” the province explained in a release.
“However, if spouses cannot come to an agreement, they can ask the court to decide. In such cases, the Supreme Court or the provincial court can make an order that one person has possession and ownership of a companion animal.”
The province says it is also opening up public engagement regarding the Family Law Act, and is looking for input on several topics, including family violence and protection orders; parenting assessments; and time with and care of children.
“We are committed to making family law work better for families,” said Attorney General Niki Sharma. “Public engagement is a crucial step in this process and we encourage everyone to share their experiences to help inform changes to family law that will ensure it reflects the changing needs and diversity of families today and tomorrow.”