Divorce: Who Gets the Dog/Who Gets the Kids?
Divorce can be hard on everyone. There is property to be divided and child custody issues, but what about the dog(s)? Yes, child custody and relationships are the most important, but dogs are family too, and with so much lost in divorce cases sometimes, losing a treasured pet can be a terrible blow, but how do you decide these things?
Soften the Blow
Despite proclamations and scholarly articles refuting statistics of trauma on children whose parents divorce, the evidence points in the opposite direction. A child’s world is extremely small, even a child who has entered the wider world of grade school. The anchors in that world are Mom and Dad. The pillars of the family are shaking and children often get caught in the crossfire. At a time like this another loss can seem insurmountable.
We love our pets, but the bond between a child and a pet is extremely strong. The pet is a friend, confidant, and playmate. Divorce causes deep grief just as if someone has died, because it is the same type of loss. Children are strongly connected emotionally to their pets and to lose that companion as well as a two parent home, borders on dangerously unstable ground. This is one bargaining chip that should be thrown in the trash. Regardless of who gets the kids, the dog should go with, but consider inviting the dog along on visitation to ease the blow for you.
Not Just for Kids
While it is true that kids tend to be more emotionally attached to the family dog, adults care deeply for their pets as well and view them as family members. Pets can be a calming influence for everyone, so much so that experts advise in the absence of a family pet, for the benefit of children and adults, adopting one if you are able to care for a dog during this time of upheaval. It is a scientific fact that talking to, hugging and stroking the fur of a pet actually lowers blood pressure and stress levels and often provides some comic relief from the sadness of this time.
Then there are the considerations as to what will be best for the dog himself. Even though pets remain property in a court of law, they are living, breathing beings with needs also. People are not the only ones who suffer from this drastic change of circumstance. Dogs are very sensitive to their environment and the emotional state of their human family members.
The Best Decision for Him
If your dog does not adapt well to change, consider leaving him in his current home. It can be very stressful for pets to adapt to a new environment. Some will do well, but others might be sensitive to the point of becoming physically ill due to the upheaval. Humans are not the only ones who suffer from stress, our pets do too and, just like humans whose health suffers because of it, their health and lifespan can be dramatically altered.
Another thing to consider is pet parent’s jobs. Does one parent have a demanding job that requires long hours outside the home? If so, should that parent get custody when he may not be able to provide the companionship dogs need? Dogs need people time every day, even in the company of other dogs in the household. In some cases where there is more than one dog in the family, pet parents may divide the pets between them. This can be a good solution to address most issues, but take into account the bond between your dogs. If one is strongly bonded to another family pet, removing him will do more harm than good.
Divorce is a trying time for all concerned, including pets, and the decisions regarding family pets are very important for everyone’s emotional well being. Try to put aside your differences and work together for the good of everyone involved.