Q: Have you ever heard of people sharing an animal after they break up? My ex and I were together for 10 years. We got a cat right after we moved in together. We have now decided to live apart, but we can’t agree with whom the cat should live. I suggested that the cat live with me for a week and him for a week. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Many people think of their animals as family and when they break up, have the same issues with visitation or custody of the animals as parents have with their children — and I can tell you that I’ve heard judges rule that the animals must go back and forth with the kids as often as I’ve heard them say the animal stays put. It seems it’s an arbitrary decision based on circumstances.
When ever I answer an ex-etiquette question, I base the solution on the best interest of the children. That’s why the first rule of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents is “Put the kids first.” If you do that, it’s easy to remove your own self interest and use the kids’ welfare as the criteria to make the right decision.
Since you did not mention you had children, I suggest you base your decision on what is best for your beloved cat. He is 10 years old. He probably has a routine, knows his space, and is comfortable in his home. I know from experience — my own daughter brings her cats with cat box, toys, and treats each time she visits. They are much younger; one is 3, the other is a year, and it takes them a few days to get acclimated, not to mention the car ride makes them crazy. I can only imagine what would happen if that was their way of life. They would never get acclimated and be hiding under the bed all week.
The back-and-forth life is difficult on children — they may want to hide under the bed when they have to pick up and get organized at the other home, but you can explain what’s happening to a child. You can reassure them that both parents love them and work with them to make their life more comfortable. You can also see how they’re affected when the back-and-forth life is approached incorrectly.
You can’t explain what’s happening to a 10-year-old cat, but using the same approach, I’d tell you to look what’s best for this cat and make your decision accordingly. Being a sensitive animal owner is very similar to being a sensitive parent — you are as unselfish as you can possibly be and make your decisions in their best interest.
So, rather than dig in your heels, I’d suggest you and your ex figure out who can spend the most time with the cat and where would he be the most comfortable for his remaining years. If you’re friendly, perhaps set aside a time that the non-custodial pet owner can visit. This is when people note that it’s ironic you can use this approach with an animal, but not with children …
My answer? For all beings, look for the unselfish solution — not based in principle, but in love and compassion. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.