Pets, including cats, dogs and even goldfish, are now considered family members under new laws in Spain with implications regarding shared custody when couples break up.
The new law, which deems that household pets are now legally considered family members, and not mere objects, as is the case in many countries around the world, came into effect on Wednesday 5th January.
The new legislation recognises that pets are “living, sentient beings” for the first time and can no longer be considered to be objects in the eyes of the law.
This means that when couples break up or divorce, the courts will now have to consider the welfare of the animal as well as the needs of the human parties involved.
This applies to all domestic pets including dogs, cats, birds and even goldfish.
The legislation was drafted by the ruling Socialists and their leftist coalition partners Podemos, and is geared towards ending legal problems that often emerge when couples end their relationships, most notably regarding who gets to keep the pets.
Whether the separation is non-marital or a divorce, the courts will now have to consider the animal’s well-being. If one of the parties has a history of cruelty to animals or gender violence against their former partner, they may lose custody of the pet.
The authorities will be able to decide on shared custody as well regarding the pets, such as assigning how many days each party is allowed with the pet. They will also be able to define what the responsibilities of each party are.
Spain is the latest country to recognise that animals are sentient beings, joining the growing group of nations that currently include France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Portugal.