So, your relationship has come to an end. This can be a painful and emotionally difficult time for both parties, particularly if you have to divide any belongings you might share. This upheaval can be made even more tricky if you are both parents to a pet, you both share and love.
Thankfully, if you’re married and the break up has been difficult to negotiate, laws in US states like Illinois, California, and Alaska (along with some others), have passed legislation over the past few years that means pets are now treated as people in divorce proceedings. A judge in these states has the discretion to elect who gets custody. They can also suggest split custody if they think it is in the best interest of the pet! Although, other states and countries like the UK still view pets as property so they might not be so compassionate if your break up finds itself in court…
However, let’s draw on the positive here: split custody and co-parenting a pet is possible and if you think you and your ex can be amicable, it might be a great path to pursue (and help ease any heartache a little!).
If you’re unmarried and/or you’re both being reasonable and diplomatic about who 'gets what' when it comes to potentially co-parenting your furry friend there are some essential things to consider before you move forward…
Before you proceed with co-parenting you have to question whether it’s the fairest thing for your pet. If you have a nervous dog, or a scatty cat, moving homes regularly can be extremely stressful for them, causing behavioural problems and anxiety. The welfare of your pet will suffer even more if you or your ex are using them as an emotional blackmail tool.
It’s not impossible to get an anxious natured pet settled eventually, but it can take patience. If the going back and forth between homes is causing them too much panic and you and your ex cannot keep to a strict and minimally disturbed routine, you have to ask yourselves: is this situation really working for your precious pooch too?
Setting clear custody rules is imperative for a happy co-parenting relationship. It might be as simple as splitting the week in half, or if one of you has a more flexible work arrangement, perhaps it’s weekdays at one and weekends at the other. Either way, it should be maintained and kept as regular as possible, to benefit your dog’s stress levels, and help manage their behaviour. A distressed or confused dog will act up, just like a child, so it’s important to let them know when and where they’re coming and going.
You also have to decide how you’re splitting the cost of the pet. Is it straight down the middle for vet bills, flea prevention, daycare, grooming, toys, etc.? Is it based on each of your individual income? Is it who the pet is with the longest? What’s the price limit before you have to discuss prior to purchasing items for your pet? This all has to be worked out in advance, to ensure a sense of fairness from the off.
If you both work long hours, are you going to live close enough to each other to have the same sitter/walker? If not, how will this work? If you are going to have two sitters, you should both agree on who those people are and make sure you both feel comfortable with the person who is caring for your pet.
You must agree before embarking on a co-parenting arrangement that you’ll both follow the same rules to make it the best and clear experience for your pet. In order to keep your beloved animal calm and happy, the rules need to be the same in each of their homes. If one of you allows them on the couch, but they’re not allowed to at the other’s, this can be confusing for your pooch and cause problems.
Also, if you’re co-parenting a dog, try and agree on the same language when you use commands. If one parent uses “stay’ and the other uses “wait”, this can be difficult to navigate for your pet, particularly if they get told off for not obeying a command they didn’t understand in the first place!
When it comes to their food, remember to try to use the same brand, amount, and time they’re fed so as not to unnecessarily upset their tummies. Their exercise? You should both be providing the same amount and style of exercise every day. Consistency is key when it comes to maintaining your pet’s health.
Even if the relationship didn’t end amicably, that’s not your four-legged friend’s fault and co-parenting can only work if you’re both willing to put your differences to the side. Being co-operative about all of the above pointers, and remembering that you both want the best for your pooch, can make the entire co-parenting experience an enriching and positive one. It can be a wonderful way of learning to be more considerate and enhance your negotiation skills too!
Pets teach us so much about ourselves already, a split custody arrangement could potentially be yet another bonus to the never-ending joy of being a pet parent.
But remember, if co-parenting isn’t working, always be honest as quickly as possible and work out what the best thing to do next for your pet is together…