Pets are one of the biggest concerns during breakups and divorces. Many couples see their dogs as family members, but the court usually treats them as belongings. Even though the ways of dog custody are improving, there are still a lot of inconsistencies.
When a couple in Madrid, Spain, broke up, one of their biggest concerns was their dog. Even though they had never been married, the girlfriend filed a lawsuit for custody of the dog. It took nearly a year for a conclusion to occur, but both parties were shocked by the results. For once, the judge referred to the dog as a sentient being rather than a possession.
Fighting for a Family Member
The man and woman dated for about 20 months, and they had their dog named Panda for over a year. Panda grew up with both of them by his side, each one caring for him equally. So, the woman filed a custody lawsuit in September 2020 since they couldn’t make the decision themselves.
Lawyer Lola García specializes in animal rights. So, when she took on the case, she had a different approach than most lawyers. She saw that Panda was a family member to both parties, and evidence showed that he had an equal bond with both humans. So, García settled on a unique ruling.
“The evidence in the proceedings reveals an affectionate relationship between the plaintiff and the dog that is worthy of legal guardianship,” the ruling states. “The possession of the animal by the couple, when they were living together, for more than a year, has generated an affective bond between the plaintiff and the animal that has been shown in various tests.”
So, when the judge made the final ruling, she considered the dog’s best interest. She hopes her decision will help shift the future of dog custody battles.
The Dog’s Fate
On October 7th, 2021, García granted the two parties joint custody of Panda. Each person will take turns getting Panda for a month. They will share the costs of medical bills and other expenses just like they would have when they were together. The judge refers to them as “co-caretakers” rather than “co-owners.”
“What is novel is to be able to use the convention to avoid having to define the pet as a shared thing or property and instead to focus on the animal’s welfare, the emotional bond, and the shared responsibility of taking care of an animal, beyond the pet being considered a property,” García said.
Sharing custody of a pet isn’t easy, but García strongly believes that it’s in the dog’s best interest. She said it was a “pioneer ruling” because it was one of the first of its kind. It’s time for more officials to acknowledge that dogs shouldn’t be called belongings or property because as we know, they are family.
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