Q: How can a Paralegal help me with obtaining custody of my pet, if Family Law is out of a Paralegals scope of practice?
A: Yes, Family Law is out of a Paralegal’s scope of practice, however, by law, animals are considered personal property. Even though it is hard to fathom calling your pet “property”, when realistically they are your family, in the eyes of the law they are property. With that being said, the Small Claims Court has the jurisdiction for the return of personal property, as long as the value of said property does not exceed the Small Claims jurisdiction.
The current jurisdictional amount for claims to be brought to the Small Claims Court is $35,000.00.
Q: How can I prove that the pet rightfully belongs to me?
A: As impersonal as it may seem to say this, the answer is Ownership. As animals are considered to be personal property by law, in order to prove who the animal belongs to, it is whoever can prove Ownership. Things such as the Bill of Sale, Adoption certificates, or even veterinary invoices, can go a long way in proving Ownership of your pet.
Q: My former partner bought the dog, and is the one who maintained the medical needs, but I took care of the day-to-day activities with the dog. Will that help prove who is the rightful owner?
A: In this case, you are the person you walked the dog every day, or groomed the cat, or cleaned the parrot cage… unfortunately, these actions are not enough proof for Ownership.
A great case that explains this is Baker v Harmina, 2018 NLCA 15. While this case started out in the Small Claims Court, and was appealed twice, the ultimate decision in the Court of Appeal relied on the proof of purchase. However, the dissenting Judge in this case did agree that ownership of an animal is complex and some factors including things such as day-to-day activities like exercise, should be considered.
Q: Can I fight for custody of any animal? Or is it just the usual dog and cat?
A: You can attempt to obtain custody of ANY animal. Be it a dog, cat, bird, horse, snake, even a ferret. Every animal matters, and as they are unable to speak for themselves, it is up to their human “parent” and their legal representative, to advocate for their best interests, including “custody”.
Q: Does pet custody always lead to litigation?
A: No. There are more ways of negotiating either the custody or the return of your beloved fur baby, other than through the litigation process. The best way to resolve custody or return of a per, would be an agreement between the parties either when first purchasing/adopting the pet, or at the onset of the relationship ending. Figuring out what to do with your pet prior to retaining legal advice, would be the least stressful avenue for both yourself, and your pet.
Another option could be mediation. Sometimes sitting down with a neutral third party to hear both sides, can go a long way in deciding who the pet really should stay with or if joint custody/access is an option.
Of course, if neither of those options work for you, you can retain legal advice, including the advice from one of our paralegal, and go over all options you have available to you and your pet.
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