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Divorce and Separation: The Montreal SPCA Creates a Standard Animal Custody Agreement

As part of the Lasting Relationship campaign it is launching today, the Montreal SPCA is encouraging couples to formalize a custody agreement for their companion animal in the event of a break-up, reminding them that statistics show that their relationship with their animal could last longer than their union.

Montréal, January 20, 2022 – Considering that January is known as “Divorce Month” and family law professionals have reported a surge in the number of consultations for separation since the beginning of the pandemic, the Montreal SPCA is launching a campaign inviting couples to sign an agreement that will establish the custody of their animals should they break up. The contract designed by the organization is the first template of its kind in Quebec to be made available to the public. The SPCA is also launching a petition demanding that courts consider animals’ best interests when determining their custody in separation or divorce proceedings.

Statistically, the average relationship with a companion animal could last longer than a marriage or common-law relationship. The SPCA’s contract therefore fills a gap in family law, which still considers animals as things, rather than sentient beings. Indeed, even though the Civil Code of Quebec has recognized animals as sentient beings with biological needs since 2015, in separation or divorce cases, they are subject to the same rules as movable property. As a result, it’s the spouse who acquired the animal who is entitled to claim ownership at the time of separation or divorce. Courts do not take into account the animal’s interests or even their attachment to each partners, when ruling on custody.

“Signing the animal custody agreement we’re making available today is at animal owners’ discretion. However, we hope such agreements will become standard practice during the adoption process, not only at the Montreal SPCA, but throughout Quebec. We’re also working to advance this issue with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec so that the Civil Code of Quebec would require courts to consider an animal’s best interests when ruling on their custody.”
– Me Sophie Gaillard, Director of Animal Advocacy and Legal Affairs at the Montreal SPCA.

A relationship with an animal: on average, longer lasting than a marriage

According to the Institut de la Statistique du Québec (ISQ), one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, with the highest risk of break-up around the fourth year of the relationship. This trend is also observed elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, according to Statistics Canada, one-third of divorces in Canada occur within the first seven years of marriage and more than half of unions do not make it past the 12-year mark. Furthermore, the number of divorced people in Canada increased by 46% between 2000 and 2021, while common-law unions, which make up 38% of couples in Quebec, tend to be more unstable than marriage, according to demographers at the Université de Montréal and the ISQ.

In contrast, domestic cats can be expected to live 15 years, while dogs live 11 years on average. This data means our relationships with our companion animals has the potential to last longer than our romantic partnership.

A standard contract in case of separation

Developed by the Montreal SPCA’s legal affairs department, a standard animal custody agreement is now available for download free of charge from the Montreal SPCA website. The SPCA hopes to make animal owners aware of the need to plan how the custody of their animal will be decided in the event of a separation or divorce.

A petition to have animals’ best interests considered in separation or divorce rulings

Several jurisdictions, including Switzerland, Spain and the U.S. states of New York, Maine, Illinois and Alaska, have enacted laws that require courts to consider animals’ best interests when ruling on their custody in separation or divorce proceedings. This is not yet the case in Quebec.

In parallel to the launch of the standard animal custody agreement, the Montreal SPCA is also asking the public to sign a petition addressed to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, Simon Jolin-Barrette. Available at spca.com, this petition calls for necessary changes to be made to the Civil Code as part of the family law reform currently underway. 

A city-wide campaign

Designed as a gift in-kind by the advertising agency SidLee, the Montreal SPCA’s Lasting Relationship campaign can be seen on major streets in Montréal and social media. The SPCA is encouraging people to join the campaign by visiting spca.com and using the hashtag #lastingrelationship on social media platforms.

Embarking in a relationship that lasts

People who wish to adopt an animal are invited to make an appointment at spca.com/en/adoption to meet the animals awaiting adoption. New time slots are added daily. Other animals are also available through other shelters; visit petfinder.com for a list.

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Source: Montreal SPCA

Media contact: Anita Kapuscinska, Senior Consultant, Corporate Development and Media Relations, Montréal SPCA, 514-359-5198, anitak@spca.com.

About the Montréal SPCA – Founded in 1869, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (now known simply as the Montréal SPCA) was the first animal-welfare organization in Canada. Today, the Montreal SPCA is the largest animal protection organization in Quebec, speaking on behalf of animals wherever there is ignorance, cruelty, exploitation, or neglect.

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