Divorced couple's dog is legally a family member, court rules

Divorced couple’s dog is legally a family member and should be treated like a daughter, court rules: Colombian owner wins legal right for visits after pet suffers emotional trauma following split from wife

  • The dog Simona became ’emotionally affected’ by divorce of her two owners 

For one family dog, the divorce of her two owners was all too much – she’d wait for days for her master to visit her only for him to have to leave after a couple of short hours.

The family home that the canine, fondly named Simona, had known for the first years of her life was changed forever when her owners Jader Castano and Lina Ochoa decided to divorce in 2021.

Lina had full custody of Simona and refused to let Jader, a Colombian university rector, have pre-set guaranteed visits to see and play with the canine, who he fondly referred to as his ‘hija perruna’ or ‘dog child’.

That meant Simona would wait for weeks to see her beloved Jader again – and the belly rubs never lasted long enough before her master had to trudge away from her. 

Jader was convinced Simona was ’emotionally affected’ every time their encounters ended and the rector himself became depressed after he lost the dog in the divorce – so much so that he couldn’t stomach eating a meal due to his grief, according to court documents. 

For one family dog, the divorce of her two owners was all too much – she’d wait for days for her master to visit her only for him to have to leave after a couple of short hours (file image)

After months of heartbreak, Jader decided to do something about it and took the matter to court, hoping that he could see Simona in pre-set and guaranteed visits.

And judges at the Bogota Superior Court ruled last month that the dog should be legally considered his ‘daughter’ and treated as a child in divorce proceedings in the first case of its kind in Colombia.

Jader had sued his ex-wife for refusing to let him have scheduled visits with Simona, arguing that the dog was part of the ‘family’s nucleus’ and they have a ‘bond of love’. He said both he and the pooch were both badly affected by the divorce and the lack of frequent visits. 

For the Colombian judges, the lawsuit demanding regular visits became precluded by a wider question: Should Simona be treated as a family member? 

Their answer was yes – and the judges ruled that Simona had been a member of the ‘multispecies’ family before the divorce. 

‘In the present case it must be emphasised that the plaintiff [Jader] considers Simona as his daughter and that Simona also has a reaction due to the separation of Jader and Lina. 

They ruled Jader was now entitled to regular and scheduled visits with his beloved dog Simone, who the judges said had also suffered emotionally after the marriage broke down.

In 2016, Colombian judges had ruled that animals are not objects that people can just transport – but instead living beings with feelings. 

The court also ruled that owners must take care of their pets’ emotional and physical wellbeing as well as protecting them from pain. 

But the latest ruling went much further, declaring that pets can be seen as family members – and should be treated as such. 

The rights of animals and pets is become engrained in the laws of countries across Latin America in recent years, according to the Harvard Review of Latin America. 

‘Latin American legal systems are at the forefront of considering animals as family members. In a global recent attitudinal change towards animals in western societies, today, many people recognise themselves as part of a multispecies family,’ the Harvard Review wrote. 

In Peru, a court ruled in 2018 that a three-year-old pig called Petunia was a family member and shouldn’t be separated from her owners. 

The local government had said the pig was a public health risk and must be moved to a farm – but the family challenged this in court, saying they had formed a strong bond with Petunia and considered her as a family member. The court ruled in their favour and Petunia stayed living with her family. 

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