A new ruling out of a family court in Madrid, Spain gives the judicial stamp of approval to pet custody. After a recently separated Spanish couple went to court to determine which “parent” the family’s pet dog should live with, the judge made a ruling which may signal that pet custody is in our future.
El Perro Caliente
After a hotly contested custody trial, a Madrid court this month awarded joint custody of an estranged couple’s pet border collie named “Panda.” The separated couple, who filed this action, apparently only went to trial on the issue of determining who the dog should live with.
The Spanish court, in its recent ruling, and after verifying an “affective bond” between the animal and the plaintiff, ruled on both the issue of parental responsibility and a timesharing schedule (physical and legal custody) of the pet dog!
The Spanish court ruled that both parties were “jointly responsible” and “co-caretakers” of the pet dog. The judge also ruled Panda will live in both parties’ homes on a monthly rotating timesharing schedule:
Shared ownership of Panda for each of parties, and for other people responsible for pets shows that the affection a person may have over their pet is similar to the same affection from other people.
“The mere formal ownership of the animal, whether as owner or adopter, cannot prevail over the affection of the applicant.”
The Court’s resolution of this pet custody case represents a further step towards the “de-objectification” of animals, on the path marked by the imminent reform of the Civil Code. Spain is currently drafting new legislation so that animals are no longer considered objects and are legally recognized as living beings, according to the Spanish article translated in Google Translate.
Florida Pet Custody
I’ve written on the development of pet custody cases and statutes before. Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent around the world. That is because lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals.
Pets are becoming a recognized part of the family. About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.
Florida doesn’t have pet custody or visitation laws. Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children.
Accordingly, Florida courts have not or cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.
Not all states have ruled out a visitation schedule for dogs like Florida. For instance, while Texas also views dogs as personal property, in one case a Texas court authorized visitation.
Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent around the country. That is because state lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals.
About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.
According to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, about 30% of attorneys have seen a decrease over the past three years in pet custody cases in front of a judge.
Over the last decade, the question of pet custody has become more prevalent, particularly when it involves a two-income couple with no children who shared responsibility for and are both attached to the pet, she said.
Loco por Animales
The lawyer for the plaintiff, Lola García, from the Law & Animals law firm, explained that in her arguments for joint custody she resorted to the European Convention and not exclusively the Spanish Civil Code because the amendment on pet custody had not been made effective.
The plaintiff relied on the 1987 European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, which was ratified by Spain in 2017. The Convention seeks to promote the welfare of pet animals and ensure minimum standards for their treatment and protection.
Using 1987 European Convention allowed the plaintiff to declare herself as “co-responsible” and a “co-carer” of Panda, instead of a “co-owner.”
The language was considered important because it meant not treating the dog as chattel, and may open the door for lawyers to use the Convention instead of the Civil Code.
An earlier case in 2019, in Spain’s Court of First Instance number 9 of Valladolid, declared “co-ownership” of ‘Cachas” the dog after the parties’ separation, and allowed each of the owners a timesharing schedule of alternating six-month terms each year.
That ruling was seen as “a great advance” in the public’s awareness of the importance of pets, but pets were still referred to as property. The ruling also mentions different judgments that are based on similar cases and alludes to a judicial decision from 20 years ago which provided an approach that can be described as ahead of its time.
In the US and UK, pets are legally seen as inanimate objects akin to cars, houses or other personal items. Custody cases come down to determining who the sole owner is. In Australia, there is no legislation as to how to courts should navigate living arrangements for pets after a breakup.
France changed its law in 2014 so that pets were considered “living and feeling beings” rather than “movable goods”. The new status meant that couples could fight for shared custody in divorce cases.
The article from Spain’s RTVE is here.