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Spain makes pets legal members of family, will consider their welfare in divorce battles

Spain makes pets legal members of family, will consider their welfare in divorce battles

'Animals are part of the family and when a family decides to separate, the fate of the animal must be regulated with the same importance as the fate of other family members.'

In a legal shift that came into effect on Wednesday, Spain became the latest European country to recognize pets as living and sentient beings rather than mere objects. Under this new law, besides considering family needs, the country will also consider a pet's welfare when couples divorce or break up. The move—which strengthens the case for couples obtaining shared custody of their animals—follows the example set by some other European countries that recognize animals as sentient beings including France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Portugal. 



 

According to CNN, although the law was only recently passed, the practice of recognizing pets as sentient beings instead of objects owned by one or the other partner was already honored in Spain. In October last year, a Madrid judge gave joint custody of a dog to an unmarried couple who sought a court ruling on whom the pet should stay with after their separation. Lawyer Lola Garcia, whose Rights&Animals firm handled the case, considers the new reform a major step forward in a series of forthcoming legal changes governing people's relationship with animals. "Animals are part of the family and when a family decides to separate, the fate of the animal must be regulated with the same importance as the fate of other family members," said Garcia.



 

The new Spanish legislation was drafted by a junior member in the coalition government named Unidas Podemos, reports WION. Podemos is said to have had a draft on animal welfare law prepared since October which aimed to prevent a legal fight between estranged couples over who keeps the pets. Under the law that came into effect this week, pet owners must "guarantee" the pet's well-being and states that if either partner has a history of cruelty to animals, they may be refused or lose custody of the animal.



 

The law—which amends three pieces of legislation: the Civil Code, the Mortgage Act and the Civil Procedural Act—also requires courts to prioritize the animal's welfare when settling disputes over who inherits a pet. Pet ownership is high in Spain when compared to other European countries and the left-wing coalition government has plans to bring in more legislation to strengthen animal rights, including a ban on wild animals in circuses and stopping the sale of pets in shops. Yet, the nation remains polarized around its controversial tradition of bullfighting and it seems unlikely that this hotly-contested animal rights issue will be resolved in the near future.



 

Earlier, a lawyer seeking joint custody of a pet for their client had to prove both members of a couple owned the animal as an object. This gave an advantage to whoever had registered the pet. Under the new law, Garcia explained, a judge has to determine where the animal will fare better and that determination is based on the animal's well-being. Now, a partner who can demonstrate financial solvency or who has been granted custody of their children has a better chance of securing custody of any pets too, as there is a special effective link between children and animals, Garcia added. Praising the new law, 31-year-old Rodrigo Costavilas—a psychologist who was out walking his dog in the Madrid Rio park—told reporters: "This will help in the reduction of animals being abandoned or badly treated."



 

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