Tips For Figuring Out Pet Custody After A Breakup

Having a pet is one of the most fulfilling things about life. Animals love unconditionally, always listen to your gripes, and at the end of the day just want to cuddle up next to you and make you feel safe and warm. They're spectacular little creatures.

As any animal lover knows, pets are family. They're not merely some animals that hang out in our house but are recognized by some humans as children or siblings. Who doesn't have a dog brother or a cat child? Because of this, when you break up with a partner with whom you share a pet, you don't simply walk away. As if you had a human child, you must sit down with your now-ex and decide how you'll share pet custody. Even if one partner came to the relationship with the pet, depending on the length of the partnership and the bond that was created between the animal and their, well, stepparent, custody should be considered. No matter how messy the breakup, you shouldn't take a person away from an animal when there's love there.

Although arranging custody can be difficult, especially in cases where animosity clouds the situation, if you think about what's best for your pet, hopefully you can put your grudges aside long enough to do what's right.

Put your pet first

Dogs and cats are sentient beings. What that means is that, like humans, they're capable of fear, pain, joy, sadness, hunger, love, attachment — all of it. And scientists have the MRIs to prove it. 

When deciding on custody, you want to put your pet first. As much as you may want to get back at your ex or cause them pain or anger, don't do it at the expense of your pet. Your pet is an innocent bystander to all this, and they rely on you to do what's best for them. So, before you get underway with the details of custody, talk to your partner about how paramount it is that you don't get off track as to whose welfare should be at the heart of every decision. If you can agree to be civil for the love of your pet, then you've already taken the first step to being shared-custody parents.

Come up with a realistic schedule

Now that you and your partner have split, your schedules are likely to change drastically. All the time you spent together suddenly becomes empty slots on the calendar and if you had a shared friend group, you might see that your social life won't be what it was before the breakup. It's important to keep this reality in mind as you schedule who will have the pet when and for what amount of time. You want to devise a schedule that will work for both of you and one that doesn't need require frequent alteration.

Of course, emergencies arise and you may need to ask your partner to take Charlie the Wonder Pup two weekends in a row but, like kids, pets thrive when there's a schedule — hence the reason you get that nightly glare when your pet's dinner is five minutes late — so do them a favor and give them a schedule. They're already probably confused enough as it is about being shuttled between two homes, so a realistic schedule can help provide them stability during a time that they can't fully understand.

Make it as easy as possible for your pet

In addition to a schedule, you want to make the transition into shared custody territory as smooth as possible for your pet. If one partner moves out, don't request that they buy all new things for the pet. Instead, have them take a few of your pet's favorite toys or beds so they have a piece of what they know as home with them. Your pet will crave that familiar smell to comfort them during this time. 

Make sure they're given the same food and snacks at each place and that the rules are similar at each home. You don't want your cat to be allowed on the couch at one place, but not allowed on the couch at the other place (not that cats are big on rules). Streamline it all so that your pet isn't confused by what's okay and what's not. It's also best to stick to whatever rules existed in their initial home. 

Expect changes from your pet

Our pets are able to experience a gamut of emotions. As such, you can't expect such a change in their life to go without some sort of response from them. Especially if they're older and really set in their ways.

"Have patience with them and understand that you might experience some challenges," professional dog trainer and animal behaviorist Corina Witkowski tells Popsugar. "It is not unusual for a dog under stress to show new behavioral issues. If you or your pet are struggling, take a look at the big picture and evaluate if the lifestyle you chose for it is the right one."

Although the early days or even weeks may be riddled with behavior from your pet that you've never seen, don't give up! Like you, they're trying to adjust to the changes in their new life. They'll get there in time. However, how long it will take depends on the individual pet. Like humans, not all animals have the same personality or emotional ability to adhere to change quickly.

Emotionally prepare yourself

Although both you and your partner have agreed to put your pet first, you can't ignore the fact that there will be an emotional battle ... for you. When someone — or something — is part of our lives every minute of every day and now they're not, a mourning period must follow. Yes, your pet is still alive, but not having them with you all the time can provoke feelings of loss and grief — which is very normal!

Because this is very much going to be an aspect of your shared custody arrangement, try to prepare for those days and nights when you're without your pet. A good way to do so is to lock in plans to keep yourself distracted. Whether that means going out with friends or taking yourself out on a date, escape the house and do something so you're less likely to think about your pet. It may be important to put your pet first, but a happy and healthy pet needs a human who is healthy and happy too.

Having to share your pet with your ex can be a trying situation, but it can also be rewarding. As long as you've done everything possible to make sure the changes have been made with your pet's best interest at heart, then you've succeeded.