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Marital separations | Whose custody of Grizou?

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A little earlier this year, a legal dispute involving the members of a separated couple broke out before the Court of Quebec. At the heart of the dispute: custody of Léo. One of the ex-spouses claimed sole custody. But Leo is not a child: he is a shepherd-type dog, and the judge had to decide to find out with whom he would now nest.

Separations often impose difficult and painful choices, between distribution of material goods and custody of children. Sometimes it’s a pet that finds itself in the middle of the game of bowling, claimed by one and the other of the parties. And since Quebecers have never been so numerous to welcome a companion into their homes and that breakups remain commonplace, the risk that a dog or a cat will become the object of tugging is increased.

Recently, the Court of Quebec was seized to rule on the case of Léo, who had been adopted by a couple in 2018. When they separated in April 2020, the spouses had agreed on shared custody; pooch would periodically pack his bags to alternately lodge from one sign to another. But a few months later, one of the two exes indicates that he intends to keep the dog full time, which his former partner refuses, keeping Leo with him. Faced with an impasse, the case is brought before the courts, which are asked to decide: does Leo have an official sole proprietor?

After hearings and analysis of this particular case, judge Julie Philippe ordered the resumption of shared custody at equal time. “The Court has come to the conclusion that the parties are co-owners of Léo”, we read in the decision, motivated among other things by the fact that the adoption project had been carried out jointly, that the two members of the couple participated in the costs related to the animal, that bonds had been created between all, and this, even if only one name of owner appears in the official documents of the dog.

And animal welfare?

Bringing the issue of keeping an animal in the context of a separation to court is relatively common, but this type of judgment in Leo’s case is much rarer, reports the lawyer. Sophie Gaillard, Director of Animal Advocacy and Legal Affairs at the Montreal SPCA. “Usually, in this type of dispute, the courts apply by default the rules that apply to movable property, and the person who bought or adopted the animal is declared as the owner,” says Ms.e Gaillard, pointing out that, in the above case, the analysis is more contextualized and takes into account the links with the dog.


PHOTO PHILIPPE BOIVIN, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Me Sophie Gaillard, Director of Animal Advocacy and Legal Affairs for the Montreal SPCA

However, the lawyer regrets that the interest of the animal was not the determining factor in the decision and would like to see things evolve on this subject. “Since 2015, it has been recognized in the Civil Code of Quebec that animals are not property, but sentient beings. However, in matters of family law, when the time comes to determine custody in the context of a separation, the principles that apply to property are coldly applied. There is a kind of inconsistency currently in Quebec law,” she laments, specifying that Switzerland, Spain and several American states have passed laws so that the interest and well-being of a animal are at the heart of the decision in the event of marital separation.

The Montreal SPCA hopes to take advantage of the family law reform, a second part of which will be launched in 2023, to demand the addition of an article along these lines. A petition on the initiative of the organization is also in circulation to put pressure on the government.

Pending the possible introduction of an article modifying the conditions of animal care, a standard contract to be signed preventively by couples who own furry companions has been made available to the public, helping to determine the conditions of care in case of rupture.

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