A Spanish court has ruled that pets are also members of the family. In divorce cases, the husband and wife must share them when they get separated.

There was already no doubt about it among animal lovers, but now pets are officially considered a member of the family in Spain. The new law, which came into force on January 5, recognises pets for the first time as living, sentient beings and not just as objects.

“Animals are part of the family 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,” said lawyer Lola Garcia.

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The court said that the courts are required to consider the welfare of animals. It aims to end the legal wrangling that often occurs between couples who keep pets.

Owners must “guarantee” the pet’s well-being, and if either spouse has a history of animal cruelty, he or she may be refused or lose custody of the animal, according to the law.

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Spain is not the first country to do so; France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Portugal are among the European countries that recognise animals as sentient beings.