New laws mean judges are considering what's best for pets in divorce cases.
couple holding persian cat
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Any pet parents will tell you their dogs or cats are part of their family, and now Spanish lawmakers agree. 

Early last month, Spain's lower house, the Congress of Deputies, passed a law stating that pets are now considered "sentient beings," Spanish newspaper El País reports. The new law is the latest in the trend of governments—including in the United States—opting to treat pets as living things rather than objects that can be divided during a divorce or separation. 

In Spain, the new law amends the country's civil code, which deals with property and families, El País reports. The new law assigns pets a new legal standing, the newspaper says, meaning they shouldn't be separated from their owners without their health and circumstances being considered. 

"It's a step forward and it says that in separations and divorces, the arrangement that will be applied to the animals will take into account not only the interests of the humans, but also of the animal," animal protection advocate María González Lacabex told the newspaper. 

An example of the law's goals emerged before the measure was codified. In October, a Spanish judge awarded a now-separated couple joint custody of a border collie named Panda, The Washington Post reports. The man and woman adopted the dog when they were together but then went to court after they split. 

If all goes according to plan, each person spends a month at a time with Panda while they each pay for the dog's expenses. Lola García, the woman's lawyer, told the newspaper that the arrangement is very similar to a separated couple sharing custody of a human child. 

Several other countries—France, New Zealand, Slovakia, Portugal, Germany, and Switzerland—have each passed measures that recognize pets as living, feeling beings in recent years. And while New York state lawmakers didn't pass a law solidifying pets as "sentient beings," they did give the state's judges guidance on how to treat pets in divorce cases. 

The law, enacted in October, instructs judges to determine what's in the best interest of a pet during custody battles, the Niagara Gazette reports. Like in the Panda case, pets will be treated more like children rather than a record collection or beach house. 

"I think in the past pets were simply property," Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, told the paper. "But they are sentient beings, and on that basis they deserve some thoughtful consideration, and that is what the intention is."

The New York law follows similar ones passed in California, Illinois, and Alaska.