Changes to family law will help B.C. families, including those with pets

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Changes coming into effect Monday, January 15, 2024, will reduce some of the difficulties for families going through separation or divorce in B.C.,

These include families with pets.

British Columbians will also have the opportunity to provide input into further changes to make family law work better for families.

Work is being done to update family law in phases.

On January. 15, changes from the first phase concerning companion animals come into effect to better help people determine ownership and possession of companion animals following a separation or divorce.

Public engagement also begins, allowing people to share their experiences with family law to help inform changes that will ensure that the health, safety and well-being of children continue to be at the centre of every decision.

The changes coming into effect improve the process for determining ownership and possession of companion animals following a separation or divorce.

In the past, the factors that determined who kept companion animals after a relationship ended were the same as those for dividing other types of property. This change makes family law work better for today’s families by providing spouses and the court with more appropriate guidance during a separation or divorce.

To better serve people and animals involved, determining factors now include:

  • 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.

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. Companion animals does not refer to service or guide dogs, or agricultural livestock.

After a successful first phase of public engagement, additional updates to the Family Law Act are being explored to reflect changes in society and developments in case law.

Public engagement will be open until March 31, 2024. Following this consultation, the ministry will report publicly on the findings, which will inform proposed amendments to the legislation.

For details: Making Family Law Better for Families – govTogetherBC