Spain now also considers well-being of pets during a divorce

In Spain, pets are now considered living beings endowed with sensitivity. During a divorce, the animal’s well-being will be considered to define who gets custody.

Dogs, pets
In Spain, a judge will now consider an animal welfare to assign its custody in the case of a divorce | Illustration © Alvan Nee, 2019

Spain will consider a pet’s welfare when couples divorce or break-up. In December, Spain passed a law where pets are considered sentient beings rather than objects. The legislation came into force on January 5.

Pets are no more considered mere transportable objects. Similar legislation has already been adopted in France, Belgium and Portugal. In Spain, the Penal Code already made a distinction between damage to pets and objects since 2003.

There are 13 million registered pets in Spain. For the National Association of Food Manufacturers for Companion Animals, the number amounts to 29 million pets with 9 million dogs, 8 million fish and 6 million cats.

One of the consequences of the law is that pets, because they have special bonds with the family they live in, can no longer be seized like an asset for paying off debt or mortgage for instance.

Considering custody of a pet based on its well-being

And in the case of a divorce, a judge has to determine the future of the companion animal based on its well-being. It can’t be randomly transferred to a shelter or separated from the family.

Approximately 100,000 couples divorce every year in Spain and almost a third of them would own a pet, according to El Pais.

In October, 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 they separated. The dog spends a month with each of them and both are legally responsible.

Previously, the custody was more likely determined by whoever was considered the owner, having bought or registered the pet.

A partner that can demonstrate financial solvency or who has been granted custody of their children would have a better chance of securing custody of any pets because there is a special bond between children and animals, said lawyer Lola Garcia from the firm Rights&Animals.

Spain’s left-wing coalition government plans further legislation to strengthen animal rights, including a ban on wild animals in circuses and stopping the sale of pets in shops. However, the nation remains polarized around the tradition of bullfighting, a hotly contested animal rights issue that is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.

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