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Ex-etiquette: Consider cat's and child's needs in custody plan

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. Is it normal when parents split up to also share custody of the cat as well as share custody of the children? My daughter is so attached to her cat and is really having trouble leaving it at her mother’s home when it’s time to come back to my home. Should I go to court for this one? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Normal? That is an interesting concept. Normal changes all the time. What’s normal today may not be normal tomorrow.

For example, research tells us that in 2019, 40% of all babies born in the United States were born to unmarried mothers. That certainly wasn’t “normal” 30 years ago. That’s why I shy away from using the word “normal.” You really can’t depend on it.

After a breakup, you have to find your new normal. All must adjust to a new schedule and new surroundings. Animals can’t verbally tell you how they are affected by the breakup, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected. Just like humans, their schedules are disrupted; their meals may be different. They experience anxiety with change. They miss their humans. We’ve all seen the movies and read the stories of animals who miss their owners and travel miles on their own to see them again.

From a practical standpoint, I’ve seen court orders for dogs match a child’s custody order, but never cats. I believe it might be because cats are a little more difficult to transport. Most dogs like car rides. Rarely do you see a cat owner open the car door and the cat jumps in for a ride. (Although I am sure readers have examples.) Car rides often upset cats.

 

My experience has been that if there is an order, it takes into consideration how well the parents co-parent. If they can comfortably work together and go with the flow, transporting a dog back and forth may minimally add to the tension of change. But if they are at odds and unable to make concessions with each other, the order has been that the animal stays put — the judge is looking for a way to keep the chaos of back and forth to a minimum in the best interest of the children.

The truth is, if co-parents have the ability to comfortably negotiate, they really don’t need a court order to address an issue like this. Good ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1 is, “Put the children first.” So, co-parents simply have to ask themselves if transporting the cat will add to their children’s stress — and the cat’s stress — or reduce it. Then, make your decision accordingly.

Unfortunately, most parents don’t realize how much a breakup truly affects a child. Therefore, if you must break up, finding solutions together in the name of your children is always the best way to approach a problem. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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