A separation can be difficult for all members of the family; the family pet is no exception. Many people may be surprised when they go to court seeking to find a fair way to share the family dog, cat, or other pet, that it is treated like property, not family. The courts have set out several factors that will determine how pets are treated (Oh v City of Coquitlam, 2018 BCSC 986):

  1. pets will not be treated in a manner such as children;
  2. courts are unlikely to consider interim applications for pet ownership;
  3. Canadian Courts are unlikely to find that joint sharing or some form of constructive trust remedy is appropriate; and
  4. that pets are a variant of personal property.

While pets are personal property, they are treated differently than a car or a piece of furniture. There is a requirement that animals, especially cats and dogs, be treated humanely. A court will not award ownership of a pet to a person if it would result in abuse or neglect. Apart from that, the courts will only consider who has legal ownership, not who has the most affection for the pet or treats it better. Courts will not create visitation or joint custody arrangements for pets.

Legal ownership will usually be determined by who owns the pet or who brought it into the relationship. This usually is done by looking at who is the registered owner on the pet’s certificate or who paid for the pet. A person can also show legal ownership if they prove that the pet was gifted to them.

This cut and dry approach might make people think that all judges are heartless, but there are dog lovers on the bench too. In 2018, Justice Lois Hoegg of the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal dissented when the majority of the court relied on the above approach for determining who got the family dog (Baker v Hamina, 2018 NLCA 15). She thought that when two people contest the ownership of a pet, the court should consider additional factors, including:

  1. who bore the burden of the care and comfort of the animal;
  2. who paid for the expenses of the animal’s upkeep; and
  3. what happened to the animal after the relationship between the contestants changed.

The best way to ensure that your pet is treated like family and not property is to resolve that issue before it goes to court. If you would like to book an appointment with any of our family law lawyers, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202.

Is the Agreement Procedurally Unfair?

Before a Court will set aside an agreement, it will first consider the circumstances surrounding the agreement and whether the parties entered into the agreement in a fair manner.

The Court will consider several factors, such as whether:

  1. one party unfairly pressured the other into signing the agreement;
  2. one party had substantial power over a more vulnerable party;
  3. one party failed to disclose important information to the other party that would have affected the distribution under the agreement;
  4. there was an error in calculation or other mistake;
  5. one party lied to the other party about something that would have affected the agreement; and
  6. each party obtained legal advice about the agreement from his or her own lawyer.

After considering the above, the Court may stilldecide to not set aside all or part of the agreement if it finds that it would not have made a substantially different order for property division.

Is the Agreement, in Substance, Significantly Unfair?

Under a second step, even if the Court finds that the agreement was obtained in a fair manner, the Court may still set aside the agreement if the Court determines that the agreement is significantly unfair.

In determining whether the agreement was significantly unfair, the Court will consider:

  1. the length of time that has passed since the parties made the agreement;
  2. the parties’ intention in achieving certainty in making the agreement; and
  3. the degree to which the parties relied on the terms of the agreement.

If you need legal advice regarding a property agreement, please contact Heath Law LLP.

Upon the separation of two spouses, whether married or common law, spousal support is a critical issue that needs to be discussed. This is especially important for those who are leaving long-term relationships because the effects of separation can be particularly severe for them. Spouses should be aware of a couple of rules that may determine how long spousal support will paid.

The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines must be considered by the courts when considering the amount and duration of spousal support. Generally, support will be payable for 0.5 to 1 year for each year of cohabitation or marriage. So if two people were in a 14 year relationship, spousal support would be payable for 7 to 14 years. However, if the relationship lasted for 20 years or longer, the duration of support will be indefinite. Spousal support can also be indefinite under the Rule of 65. This rule calls for indefinite support when the age of the recipient spouse plus the length of the relationship equals or exceeds 65. The Rule of 65 does not apply to relationships that last for less than 5 years. For example, if two people ended a 10 year relationship when they were both 60 years old, support would be indefinite.

Indefinite support does not necessarily mean permanent support. It only means that no time limit can be set at the time of the order or agreement. Indefinite support orders are open to variation or review as circumstances change over time. Changes in circumstances may include a change of income, retirement, re-partnering, or if the recipient spouse has become self-sufficient.

Recipients of indefinite spousal support are under an obligation to make reasonable efforts toward their own self-sufficiency. There is no duty to achieve self-sufficiency, but efforts must be made. If a recipient fails to make reasonable efforts, the courts may impute income and reduce spousal support on a later review or variation.

If you would like to book an appointment with any of our family law lawyers, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202.

Many people have family pets that they consider to be members of the family. However, when spouses separate, they must determine who gets to keep the pet. In British Columbia, pets are not treated like children and are considered to be property. As a result, for couples who are either married or who have lived in a marriage-like relationship for two years, any pets of the relationship are generally divided along with the rest of the property of the relationship according to the Family Law Act.

Other Considerations

If a separating couple decides to go to Court to determine who gets to keep their pet, the Court will award the pet to one of the spouses. There are a number of factors that may help determine who gets to keep the family pet, including:

  • How the couple acquired the pet and who paid for it;
  • Who pays for most of the pet’s expenses;
  • Whether one person has a closer bond with the pet;
  • Who took care of the pet;
  • Who is the registered owner of the pet; and
  • Who has been taking care of the pet since the couple separated?

Agreements

Although, many people treat their pets like children, a Judge will not order that two people share time with their pet like a Court would normally do with a child. For this reason, and because going to Court can be very unpredictable, it may be a good idea for a separating couple to come to an agreement as to how they will share time with their pet. A separating couple can agree to share a pet or otherwise resolve pet custody issues through a Consent Order or through a Separation Agreement.

When Can I Apply for a Divorce?

Many people believe that a divorce can happen overnight. However, getting a divorce can be complicated and does take some time. In Canada, a couple can only get a divorce if there has been a breakdown of the marriage. There are three ways to show that a marriage has broken down: you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least one year before you apply for a divorce; adultery; or physical or mental cruelty.

The most common type of divorce is one that results from living separate and apart for one year. It can sometimes be difficult, more time consuming and expensive to prove that your spouse committed adultery or was physically or mentally cruel. If the court finds that you forgave your spouse’s behaviour, you will also be unable to receive a divorce based on adultery or cruelty.

Separation

Sometimes when a couple decides to separate, they may not be able to move into separate houses right away. In some cases, separation can occur while you are still living with your spouse. However, you must not be living as a married couple and you must have the intention to separate. There are a number of factors that may determine whether you are living as a married couple including whether you are sleeping in the same bed, eating meals together, sharing finances, or engaging in activities as a family.

What Else Do I Need to Do to Get a Divorce?

Before you can get a divorce, you must show that you have made reasonable arrangements for the support of your children. “Reasonable arrangements” includes reaching an arrangement for the payment of child support. At the time you apply for a divorce, you may also wish to address how you and your spouse will divide parenting responsibilities, whether spousal support is claimed, and how you and your spouse will divide your property.

 

If you need legal advice on this subject or any other law related inquiry please contact us.

My Partner and I are Separating, Do I Need to Pay Child Support?

Introduction

A parent has an obligation to help financially support his or her children. When two people who have had a child together separate, there is a responsibility to pay child support regardless of whether the parents were married. A step-parent may also be responsible for paying child support. Although a parent will generally be responsible for paying child support, there are a number of factors that may affect how much you have to pay and for how long you have to pay.

How Much Child Support will I have to Pay?

There are guidelines that generally determine how much child support you will have to pay. These guidelines are called the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The amount you will have to pay depends on how much money you make and how many children you have. In addition to the basic amount that the Guidelines set out, you may also be responsible for a portion of other special expenses, such as daycare or the cost of braces.

It is possible that you will have to pay an amount that is different than the amount set out in the Guidelines. For example, a court may order you to pay an amount that it decides is fair in the circumstances. It is also possible to agree with the other parent to pay a certain amount of child support. This amount must be reasonable as a court will change the amount if it determines that reasonable arrangements have not been made for the support of the child.

Step-parents

Although your financial obligation may be different than the amount set out in the Guidelines, if you are a step-parent, you may also have a responsibility to pay child support. If you are a step parent, whether you have to pay child support may depend on the legislation. If you were married, you may proceed under the Divorce Act. Under the Divorce Act, you will likely be responsible to pay child support if you lived with the child and behaved like a parent towards the child.

Under the Family Law Act, you will be responsible for paying child support if you are a legal spouse of the child’s parent and you helped support the child for at least one year. You will be a spouse of the child’s parent if you were married or if you lived in a marriage-like relationship with the child’s parent for a continuous period of two years or if you had a child together. Under the Family Law Act, you will also only be responsible for child support if a court proceeding is started within one year of the last time you providing support for the child. Under the Family Law Act, a step-parent’s responsibility to pay child support is secondary to other parents or guardians and may depend on several factors, including how long the step-parent lived with the child.

How Long Do I have to Pay Child Support?

In most cases, a parent will be responsible to pay child support at least until the child reaches the age of 19. A parent’s obligation to pay child support may continue after the child reaches 19 if that child still relies on his or her parents due to illness or disability, or because he or she is going to school full-time.

If you need legal advice on this subject or any other law related inquiry please contact us.