In Argentina, pet custody battle leads to legal status as ‘multi-species family’


BUENOS AIRES — When divorces loom, so does the question of who will have the children.

But in today’s age of diverse family shapes and makeup, that question expands to include those other much-loved family members – pets. For some couples, their pets are their de facto children. So much so that a couple in Argentina went to court to settle custody of their two dogs.

In doing so, they introduced a new term in Argentine family law: “multi-species family”.

Take into account the wishes of the animal

This is the case of Amorina Bascoy (47) and Emmanuel Medina (42), a former Argentinian couple whose divorce agreement provided for a regime of leisure and exercise for “their children”, Kiara ( 9 years old) and Popeye (6 years old), two black dogs they rescued while they were married. The four constitute a “multi-species” family, a new term in the field of family law in Argentina.

Earlier in October, a court in San Isidro, Buenos Aires, approved the couple’s earlier agreement that Amorina would keep Popeye and Emmanuel would keep Kiara. The pact, Amorina said, had taken the dogs’ wishes into account, and “each of them chose one of us to live with.”

Pets should be seen as people with feelings, not things

“We didn’t have children, so our dogs are our babies. It’s pure, noble love,” Emmanuel said as he stroked Kiara one day when the ex-couple were walking the dogs together at La Lucila, a seaside district. The two didn’t want their divorce to affect the dogs, and the four now share “walking” time at least once a week.

Amorina says the most important thing is that the dogs are happy when all four are together. “We have no problem seeing each other despite our divorce. We forget each other because just spending time with them makes us smile,” she says.

There is a legal vacuum in Argentina around the multi-species family.

Sarandy Westfall

Help other small animals

Harmony has its limits. “There’s no problem” with Emmanuel having a girlfriend, says Amorina, “unless the new partner doesn’t like doggies.” The former couple, who have been married for 15 years, may also disagree over what to feed the dogs. Amorina favors a “balanced” diet, and Emmanuel sneakily buys them meat pies on occasion. The weekly walks are a coordinated affair that relies on “good faith” and “full flexibility” on both sides, says Emmanuel.

Popeye and Kiara miss each other, admits Amorina. Their “parents” are not indifferent to their moods. Amorina says, “I was depressed and being with them made me feel better. I just die when they look at me that way,” pointing to the dogs next to her. Emmanuel is sitting next to him and says: “They come to get you when they want to sleep. They’re watching you, so you too have to sleep with them.

The former couple agree that pets should be seen as people with feelings, not things. “If a couple is no longer together, it’s a separation between them and it has nothing to do with animals. It’s cruel to neglect the animal just because it can’t talk.”

They add, a little emotionally, “the years will pass and we will no longer be alive, but Popeye and Kiara will become immortal in this decision. And they will help other little animals.”

Adapt the law for pets

There is a legal vacuum in Argentina around the multi-species family. For this reason, lawyer Iván Knobel thought of including a pet agreement with the divorce petition. He says: “This is the first time that the Argentinian justice includes in a divorce a routine visit for pets. This will raise public awareness so that the Civil and Commercial Code can be amended as has been done in Spain, and that the welfare of domestic animals is taken into account. account in the event of separation. »

Current standards in the country still cite animals as “movable property that can move independently or be moved by an outside force.” The justice system has already recognized households that include a caregiver and pets (considered non-human persons) as families.

The non-human animals that live with us are our family

For Diana Sica, the judge who ruled for Popeye and Kiara, “animals and especially pets, are sentient beings who feel, miss, rejoice, suffer and acquire habits”. So, she said, “there is no doubt that the change produced by the couple’s separation will affect them as well. This means that the owners will be in the best position to look after their interests.”

The multi-species family was first mentioned in the case of the murder of a dog, Tita, in March 2019 in Chubut in southern Argentina. The court considered that its two owners, their children, another dog and a cat belonged to the family of Tita. The killer was police sergeant Elías Saavedra, who was found guilty of abuse of authority and breaking an animal protection law.

The judge in that case said that “the non-human animals that live with us are our family. We give them a name, our own last name when we take them to the vet, give them an address (our home), take taking care of their health, feeding them, educating them and providing them with leisure.”

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