How to get pet custody in a divorce in ontario

I want to divorce my soon to be ex-husband and I don't want anything from him except for my bunny that he's keeping from me. How do I go about the process of getting my bunny back from him during the divorce?

Asked 8 months ago in Toronto, Ontario
Categories: Family Law

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John  P. Schuman, C.S.

Answer by John P. Schuman, C.S.

VerifiedOntario lawyer

Under Ontario's current Family Law Legislation, pets, of any sort, are not treated like children.  They are, for all purposes of law "property", like furniture or cars or bank accounts.  So, judges do not decide things on the basis of the "best interests of the pet", the way judges decide parenting issues on the basis of the best interest of the child

Since the “best interests” do not factor into the decision about who gets your bunny, the issue about who gets to have the bunny is determined by who owns the bunny or who can prove to have “title” to the bunny. 

To answer whether you can get your bunny back, you have to understand how property division works on separation and divorce, which is explained in this video and this podcast.  It is important to note that being married in Ontario does not give spouses any ownership interest in each other’s stuff.  So, the bunny belongs to whomever paid for it, or if there happen to be pedigree papers, the owner listed on that or other paperwork that proves ownership. Ownership does not change just because spouses are married or divorced.  Under Part I of the Family Law Act, married spouses share in the value of each other’s property but do not own each other’s stuff in anyway – unless they bought something in joint names.

Ontario’s Family Law does not give common law couples any right to property division or any ownership in each other’s stuff. It is possible that if both spouses contributed to value of the bunny that they will both become owners pursuant to the principals of Equity, which are explained more in the link above about property division and common law relationships. 

So, if you own the bunny, and your spouse does not, then and your spouse will not turn the bunny over, you may have to start court proceedings.  Rule 44 of the Rules of Civil Procedure give the Court the power to Order the Sheriff’s office go to wherever you ex is living and recover items that you have proven to the Court belong to you.   The procedure is quite complex, and you will definitely need a lawyer to assist both with getting the Order and with arranging the necessary security for damages that the Court Rule requires. 

If you and your spouse own the bunny jointly, then the situation becomes much more complex.  You must bringing a Family Court Application under section 10 of the Family Law Act for a determination that you are the rightful sole owner of the bunny based on the “principals of Equity” rather than title (because you have contributed more to the value of the bunny than your spouse).  Alternatively, you can claim, under that section, that you should be the owner who has possession of the bunny because you will “preserve the asset” better.  However, where there is joint ownership, and one owner does not want to buy out the other, Judges do not try to determine the value of assets, including bunnies, or force one party to buy out the others’ interest in the bunny.  The judge will just order that the bunny be sold on the open market and the proceeds of sale divided between the owners (again Ontario Law treats pets and “property” and not as children).   The judge may order that either party can put in offers/bids to buy the bunny with the bunny being sold at the highest price.  Alternatively, the judge may order that neither party can try to buy the bunny if that would be best for all concerned. 

If you and your ex can agree to it, you could go to Family Arbitration and instruct your arbitrator to decide the issue of where the bunny should live best on the bunnies best interest.  However, section 2.2(1) of the Arbitration Act, 1991 technically requires that assets from assets from a marriage be divided according to the Family Law Act and not the parties’ instructions.  So, your best options might be to try to work something out through negotiation, mediation or Collaborative Practice, where the needs of the bunny can come first. 

You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including property division, support, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. But, it is always best to speak to a good family law lawyer.  

Posted 8 months ago

John Schuman is a Certified Specialist in Family Law.  He is the partner managing the Family Law Group at Devry Smith Frank LLP, a full service law firm located near Eglinton and the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto. Learn more about John! Call him at 416-446-5080 or 416-446-5847 or email Listen to the Ontario Family Law Podcast!

Please note that this is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice to you. Legal advice pertaining to your particular situation can only be provided by a lawyer who has met with you to obtain all pertinent background information necessary to give you a formal legal opinion. For formal legal advice, hire a lawyer (many give a free first consultation). Contact John P. Schuman, C.S., or search the Lawyer Directory.

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