Earlier this month Olympic skater Johnny Weir and his husband, ex-lawyer Victor Voronov, officially called off the divorce. Though the couple is back together, it would be interesting to look back at one curious aspect of the very public dispute: the custody battle over their dog, a Japanese Chin named Tema.
The skater purchased the puppy during the marriage. According to Voronov, Tema was a 'make-up gift' for him after he caught his husband ‘sexting’ another man. Weir disagreed, stating Tema was his dog and was not a gift. Voronov also claimed to be Tema's exclusive caretaker as Weir's career meant that he was never home for more than four days at a time. Voronov trained the dog, walked it, cared for it, and took it to the vet for the dog's frequent medical problems.
A New Jersey judge ordered the pair to share custody and they agreed on a temporary arrangement. While this seems to be a happy ending for Tema, it makes one wonder whether Weir, Voronov, or other divorcing pet owners in Ontario would receive a similar outcome.
According to similar dog-related cases, an Ontario family law court lacks the power to make custody and access orders for a pet. While people may love them like their own furry child, dogs are definitely not children. In Canada, animals are property, thus the rights to a pet dog are governed by property law in the absence of applicable animal law legislation. Judges are generally unwilling to order the sale and split of proceeds of a pet to resolve these disputes.
If Voronov and Weir were divorcing in Ontario, each must prove ownership to have a right to possess their beloved pet.