Spain's New Law Recognizes Pets As Legal Family Members

Spain's New Law Recognizes Pets As Legal Family Members

The law was passed to ease negotiations between separating couples, streamlining the process of gaining shared custody and assessing care expenses.

Spain has just passed a new law that ensures pets are treated as legal family members, rather than property. The legislation will supposedly make divorces and separations, which can typically be messy, easier to navigate. Effective January 5 this year, all pets were recognized as “sentient beings,” making it easier for couples to seek shared custody as pet parents during the separation process. By introducing the law, Spain has now joined neighbors France and Portugal, among others, in recognizing animals as part of the family. The United States, meanwhile, still maintains that pets are property, Penn Live reports.


“Animals are part of the family,” stated lawyer Lola Garcia in an interview with Reuters following the introduction of the law. “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.” Prior to the passing of this legalization, separated couples may have found it difficult to negotiate visitation rights and shared custody, considerations reserved mainly for children. Notably, the new law also makes it illegal for pets to be “abandoned, seized, or mortgaged.” In addition to this, the legislation allows heirs to inherit an animal more easily, stops pets from being seized as a result of an owner’s bad debts, and streamlines the process of deciding how to split the costs of care between former partners.



A precedent for the law was set last October when a judge in Madrid gave joint custody of a dog to an unmarried couple. The couple had sought a court ruling on whom the pet should stay with after they separated. Now, following the legal intervention, the dog spends a month with each of them and both are held legally liable for the animal’s welfare. Garcia, whose firm Rights&Animals handled the case, believes the reform is a major first step towards governing the relationship humans share with their pets.


Spain has thus joined France, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria in recognizing animals as sentient beings instead of just objects to be owned. In these countries, the emotions animals feel are granted legal recognition. This means “legal proceedings [can] work towards [guaranteeing] their welfare.” The legislation is also only the first in a series of forthcoming legal changes governing these relationships, Garcia affirmed. One citizen, Rodrigo Costavilas, 31, praised the new law walking his dog in the Madrid Rio park. He affirmed, "This will help in the reduction of animals being abandoned or badly treated."

Pet ownership is relatively high in Spain, and the country’s left-wing coalition government has further plans to introduce legislation that will strengthen animal rights. For instance, the ruling coalition’s junior partner, Unidas Podemos, has recently backed draft legislation that seeks to end animal abandonment and stop their killing without a fair cause. This law will apply solely to pets and is not expected to affect food production, cattle, and bullfighting. Other interventions include a ban on wild animals in circuses and prohibiting the sale of pets in shops.

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