Spain Passes New Law To Recognize Pets as Legal Family Members

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Starting January 2022, Spain will legally recognize all animals as “sentient beings” with emotions rather than “property”, making sure that, in legal fights, the wellbeing of pets is considered above all else.

Separation can be a messy business – even more so when there are pets involved. Unfortunately, pets are legally considered property in the United States (and most of the world, for that matter) so when you are going through a divorce, trying to get custody over your pets can become a nightmare from a legal perspective. After all, determining things like visitation rights and shared custody over something that law recognizes only as property can be tricky business – if at all possible.

This is why Spain’s new law has pet owners all over the world hoping that they’ll soon see similar changes locally: on January 5th, 2022. Spain started legally recognizing pets as sentient beings, rather than property. What this means is that, in the case of legal fights where pets are involved, the court will consider the animal’s wellbeing when deciding who gets custody over the pet. Similarly, the legal change of status from property to sentient being also means that pets can no longer be abandoned, seized, or mortgaged. Their feelings and happiness are taken into account, so the outcome is the best possible for the pet – and not just a matter of outdated legalities.

Even though the law has been passed only recently, there have already been instances where it could be applied in practice – a Spanish couple that went to a breakup sought legal action and they got joint custody over their dog. They weren’t married but dated for over a year and a half and couldn’t reach an agreement about who will get the dog after the split, so the courts ruled that they’ll become “co-caretakers” of their pet. The dog, named Panda, will stay for a month with each of the parents and the cost of medical care and other expenses will be split evenly between the former couple. The judge reasoned that, after living with both people for a year, Panda grew close to both of them and shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to spend time with both of the people he loves.

Even though this law was 4 years in the making, Spain is not the first country to pass it. Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, and Portugal all have laws in place that recognize animals as living sentient beings with emotions, so legal proceedings work towards their welfare. One can only hope that these legal changes won’t stop here and more and more countries will revise their laws in favor of the wellbeing of animals – we already consider them beloved family members, so now it’s time for the courts to do the same.

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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