Pet Parents, Pet Custody, and Pet Support?

Mandy Moore and Ryan Adams

TMZ reports that Mandy Moore and Ryan Adams are trying to resolve custody of the six dogs and two cats the pair accumulated during their marriage. Despite Adams promising to take two of the pets with him, Moore has been saddled with all eight of their furry children since the couple split up in January 2015. As such, she has filed new court documents in their divorce requesting that Adams pay her $37,000 per month in interim support for herself and the animals and that he take custody of four pets.

Case law suggests that if Moore were an Ontario citizen making such a claim, the Ontario family courts likely could not – and would not – resolve pet-related issues arising from their separation. Generally, family courts are unwilling to consider claims relating to custody, access, support, expenses, or even the partition and sale of pets.

Family courts in Ontario also simply do not have the jurisdiction to deal with pet-related issues in matrimonial matters. Since pets are legally property, they do not fall under any legal definition of child under family law legislation; the laws and principles relating to child support, custody and access most definitely do not apply. Any rights a spouse may have to a dog, cat, or gerbil would be governed by applicable animal related legislation, if any, or property law in general.

Ultimately, the family law system is not interested in resolving pet-related issues, despite of the hardship of caring for pets, the animal's value, or the love and affection people have for their beloved non-human companions. Given the backlog in the family courts, judges would prefer to allocate their limited resources to resolving more urgent and pressing issues.

As such, Ontario separating spouses fighting over their pets are out of luck with respect to judicial intervention. If Moore resided in Ontario, her only avenue for recourse would be trying to negotiate an arrangement with Adams outside of the court system. Back in April, we blogged about the dispute resolution options available to Moore and Adams in the process of their separation such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, to mediation/arbitration, or even collaborative family law. These out-of-court processes offer spouses the flexibility to make an arrangement that works best for them and their animal companions.

Separating pet parents looking ahead post-separation arrangements for their beloved pets need to think outside of court. A family lawyer can assist with resolving pet-related disputes along with other issues arising from separation.

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