Golden Retriever Makes Legal History in B.C. Custody Battle

British Columbia court grants joint custody of a golden retriever named Stella to her former owners, marking a historic decision that recognizes pets as family members rather than property.

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Golden Retriever Makes Legal History in B.C. Custody Battle

Golden Retriever Makes Legal History in B.C. Custody Battle

In a pioneering decision, a British Columbia court has granted joint custody of a golden retriever named Stella to her former owners, marking the first case of its kind under new laws that recognize pets as family members rather than property. The ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court ordered that custody of Stella be split evenly on a week-on, week-off basis between Sahar Bayat, a nurse, and her ex-partner, a veterinarian.

The decision comes just months after amendments to B.C.'s Family Law Act took effect in January 2024, clarifying that companion animals should be treated as members of the family in custody disputes. The judge in Stella's case acknowledged that both parties deeply love the dog and have shown great concern for her well-being, citing the new legislation as a key factor in granting shared custody.

Bayat spent over $60,000 in legal fees fighting for joint custody of Stella after her ex took sole possession of the dog following their breakup. "It was worth it," Bayat said of the costly legal battle. "I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I didn't try."

The court's ruling is being celebrated as a noteworthy achievement in recognizing the elevated status of pets above mere property. "The court has acknowledged that animals are sentient beings," said Victoria Shroff, a Vancouver-based lawyer specializing in animal law. "This is an important step forward."

Why this matters: The historic decision reflects a growing legal and societal recognition of the importance of pets in people's lives. As more couples choose pets over having children, courts are increasingly having to confront how to handle custody of cherished companion animals when relationships end.

Under the updated Family Law Act, judges in B.C. must now consider several factors in determining the future of pets, including each party's ability to care for the animal, the nature of the relationship between the pet and any children, and any history of family violence that could impact the animal's safety. The ruling in Stella's case, while an interim decision, establishes a model for prioritizing the well-being of pets in separation and divorce proceedings.

Key Takeaways

  • BC court grants joint custody of dog Stella to ex-owners under new family law
  • Ruling recognizes pets as family members, not property, in custody disputes
  • Nurse Sahar Bayat spent $60K fighting for joint custody after breakup
  • Court must consider pet's well-being, relationship with children, and family violence
  • Ruling establishes model for prioritizing pets' welfare in separation/divorce