Gen Y Dogma: 4 Rules For Having The “Big (Custody) Talk” With Your

Christina Peden
by Christina Peden

It’s not fun, but it’s got to be done. Christina Peden talks about having the “what happens to the dog if we break up talk” with your significant other.

You’re thinking about adopting a dog with your significant other, or maybe you’ve already taken the plunge. You’re probably doing all kinds of research — trying to figure out the healthiest food for your new arrival, looking into your local veterinary clinic, obedience training, buying dog toys … the list goes on. However, there might be one unpleasant potential reality that you haven’t prepared yourself for: What happens if you and your partner split?

It’s not pleasant and no one really wants to think about it (let alone talk about it), but it’s vitally important that you do so for the sake of your pet. I’m sure we’ve all known at least one couple who have gotten into an ugly and upsetting “custody” battle over a pet they adopted together; you don’t want that to be you two, right? That’s what this week’s column is all about: how and when to have “the talk” with your partner.

Rule Have the talk before you adopt your pet

This is definitely an important one. I know, because Ryan and I didn’t do it! Although we don’t think there’s much chance of us breaking up, it would be really horrible to have to deal with a custody battle over Matilda, on top of a devastating break up.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine (let’s call her “Kate”), adopted a puppy with her boyfriend of just over a year, and they never had “the talk”. When they broke up about a year getting their puppy, her ex (who was not happy about the break up) essentially took their dog hostage. He moved his stuff out while she was at work, and took the dog with no notice. He basically ended up using their dog as bait to get Kate to see him in person. Over the course of a few months, he was able to wear her down, using the dog as a bargaining chip; they ended up getting back together because Kate missed her “little family” (but mostly her puppy). Most of Kate’s friends agree that the reconciliation wouldn’t have happened if her boyfriend hadn’t used the dog to reel her back in.

And that’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to have this conversation, preferably before your furry friend comes home. And if you’re like Ryan and I and didn’t do so beforehand, make sure you do it ASAP. Have the talk while you’re happy together; you’ll be more likely to compromise, see things from the person’s perspective and make the best decision for your pet.

Rule Be sure to cover the basics

Like I said, this isn’t an easy subject to touch upon, so here are a few key questions you should ask yourselves when you sit down together.

a) Who will your pet live with, primarily, should the two of you split? In order to figure this crucial piece of the puzzle, ask yourselves some questions like:

  • Who is in a better position to care for the pet? This can depend on a number of factors, like finances and who can provide an overall better living situation for the pet. Who is your furry friend closer to? (Let’s face it, there’s usually a “favorite”, painful as it may be to admit.)
  • Will there be visitation or “shared” custody? We know a number of couples who have broken up but continue to amicably care for their dog. The partner who doesn’t have the pooch full time will take the him to park a couple times a week and if their ex goes away on vacation, the dog stays with them.
  • How will you divvy up medical costs? Should the worst happen and your pet needs expensive vet care, are the two of you willing to chip in together to make sure the bill gets paid?

Rule Push through the awkwardness

No one’s pretending that this is an easy conversation to have. Just the thought can be so uncomfortable that there’s a good chance you’ll put it off until it’s too late. Like I said, you don’t want to be that couple.

When Ryan and I had “the talk”, it was me who brought it up and it was definitely hard for me; I don’t like even the hint of potential conflict and emotionally charged situations kind of make me squirm, but having seen what can happen when people don’t have this crucial conversation, I knew it was necessary.

And Ryan? I mean, he’s a guy. When I said we had to talk about “something important”, I think you could see the color visibly drain from his face (haha). And sure, that almost made me second guess myself. I could have just said, “Oh, it’s okay, we can talk about it another time,” but I pushed through it; I knew it had to be done. If you can’t talk about the tough stuff with your partner, who can you talk about it with? After all, this is a decision that affects both of you and your pet.

Rule Come to an agreement

Hopefully, you and your significant other have been able to have a productive conversation about all this. Make sure you come to agreement about what will happen in the event of a split. You can always re-visit your agreement down the road should circumstances change and make adjustments as necessary. The important thing is that you have an amicable plan for dealing with a break up should it occur.

Also, don’t discount the importance of getting your agreement in writing and signed by both parties. Verbal agreements can be easily broken in the intense wave of emotion following a break up. A written agreement is something that can stand up in court, should your situation ever come to that (hopefully it doesn’t!). For more information about the legal aspects of splitting with a pet involved, see attorney Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton’s take on divorcing with pets.

Over to you guys. Do you and your partner have a “custody” agreement for your pet? Or have you been through a breakup where a pet was involved? How did you handle it?

Christina Peden
Christina Peden

Christina Peden is a lifelong animal lover and avid wordsmith. She lives in Toronto with her boyfriend Ryan where they are proud pet parents to puppy, Matilda and cat, Oscar. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying Toronto, Canada's all-too-short patio season, taking advantage of the city's numerous parks or curled up with a good book.

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