Skip to content

B.C. judge orders shared custody of golden retriever as couple splits

Case is one of first under new legislation that makes pets more than property
Golden retriever puppies in the North Okanagan in 2022. B.C. courts have changed how they handle pet ownership during separations and divorces, and a recent ruling concerned a couple’s pet retriever. (BCSPCA photo)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge in New Westminster has ordered a divorcing couple to share custody of their dog, in one of the first cases under new legislation that treats pets as more than simple property.

The case involves a couple who were together for about three years. Near the beginning of the relationship in 2020, they bought a golden retriever.

Now splitting up, the couple disputed the ownership of the dog, with the wife seeking exclusive custody.

The husband argued that he bought the retriever, while the wife put into evidence an e-transfer receipt showing that she had transferred half the cost of the purchase to her husband at the time of purchase.

Associate Judge Scott Nielsen said that other receipts showed that the wife had put money towards the retriever’s care over the last several years, and also created an Instagram page for their pet.

The judge heard claims that the husband, a veterinarian who works at clinics in Langley and Vancouver, had been cruel to the retriever, not getting her medical care in a timely manner.

“I do not share that opinion based upon the evidence before me,” Nielsen said.

He noted that both members of the divorcing couple had invested considerably in legal fees and applications with a view to their dog’s best interests.

Both members of the couple clearly loved their dog, Nielsen said in his custody ruling.

Under the old law, the ownership of pets was not much different from the ownership of a refrigerator or dining room table.

Previous rulings have focused on which partner paid for a pet to determine who would get to keep it, such as the 2022 case of a cat named Tobi in Greater Victoria. A Civil Resolution Tribunal ruled that only the man who had bought Tobi owned him, despite money the other member of the couple had put towards Tobi’s care over the years.

But in January, a new B.C. law was introduced that put animals’ welfare at the forefront.

Courts now consider an owner’s ability and willingness to care for a pet, the extent to which each spouse cared for the animal, as well as relationships between any children in the family and the pets. The amendments were made to the B.C. Family Law Act last year but took effect this year.

Nielsen ruled that the splitting couple should share the custody of their dog 50/50, on a week-on, week-off basis.

READ ALSO: Tobi the cat is paid-for property B.C. woman must return to her ex

READ ALSO: New B.C. legislation looks to clarify pet custody during divorce

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
Read more