I probably should not admit this publicly, or even privately, for that matter – but I kind of cannot wait to be a cat lady in a few decades. I love my cats, Oliver and Willie. My furry friends have been with me during my loneliest divorce days. When I return home on a dark evening and I am nervous that a criminal may be hiding in my closet, I feel comfort when I see these two waiting for me at the door.
George Elliot is attributed with remarking that “animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” And they are happy when you have cereal for dinner because it means they may get to lick the milk from your bowl… I digress. The point is we love our pets. Pets provide us with the important responsibility of caring for a life. Pets capture our hearts with cuddles and unconditional love. Pets are important family members.
In divorce, pets are reduced to “property.” They are relegated to the same category as the tv and the master bedroom furniture. Pets are to be addressed with the same emotion as the kitchen cutlery when divided. There are no special rules or exceptions set out when handling who takes the family pet. For many couples, the family pets are their children. They are loved and cared for just as fiercely. And let’s face it – our pets don’t talk back – they get an advanced billing some days in my book.
Unlike our human children, who are shared between parents, pets are an all or nothing proposition. In a handful of cases, we have negotiated pet parenting plans, when the couple decides together that they will continue to share the pet. This is rare. So then how do you decide? How do you place value on an invaluable family member? How do you get over the grief of losing your pet?
For many clients, we look at how everyone’s living situation is changing and where might be the best environment for the pet. We look at who has the most time available to walk the dog daily. We look at who may better afford the food, grooming, and vet bills. When looking at letting go of a beloved animal, we look at whether you know deep down that your spouse loves them as much as you do and will take good care.
I lost Bailey as a result of my divorce. Bailey was a dog that I hand-picked during a solo visit to the Nebraska Humane Society. Despite my affinity for cats, Bailey had captured my heart and then broke it when he went to live with my ex-spouse post-divorce. One of our cats, Sebastian, died right around the filing of the divorce and the grief was the same. As a result of Sebastian dying and Bailey leaving, little Willie Mittens, who looks out at you from the picture above, was adopted in their absence. He was brought into my newly revised family. He represents a new start, a new love, and a new hope.
Whether by death or divorce, there is a painful point of letting go. There is no easy way around it. As with all grief, you move through it with lots of tears and then focus on the happy that happened as a result of the love you received in the time you had.