Breaking up when you share a pet

From discussing co-parenting, to remembering the importance of grieving your relationship, these are some things to think about in a break-up where pets are involved.

What’s the safest and most comfortable environment for your pet?

The love for a pet can sometimes overwhelm us, and make imagining a future for them that doesn’t include us almost impossible.

Having an honest conversation with a partner about who is the best person to look after a pet is tough, but necessary. Start with the practicalities, like: 

  • What are your pet’s current living arrangements?
  • Is there any special care that they need (i.e. for a particular illness or condition?)
  • Do you have the time to commit to the exercise, training and cleaning that comes along with pet ownership?
  • Who could look after your pet at short notice in an emergency?

If you and your partner live together and someone is moving out, consider:

  • Who is moving out? Will they live somewhere suitable for your pet?
  • Who is financially able to look after a pet, or pets, on a one-person income?
  • Who has the most flexibility and time in terms of working arrangements?
  • Will you need to arrange a dog walker or doggy day care so your dog isn’t left alone for long periods of time? And if yes, have you tested whether your dog can cope in that environment?
  • Who is responsible for updating your pet’s details on their microchips, and also with vets and any insurance providers?

Weigh up all the options that are available to you, but ultimately feel right for your pet

While financial reasons shouldn’t be the only indication of who takes full ownership of a pet, looking after them on your own is expensive. It’s important to factor in not just food and vet care bills, but also costs related to holidays and enrichment too (e.g. toys/games that your pet enjoys).

You may be in a position where you can seek financial support from friends or family, so talk to a partner about this too. 

The decisions made between you and any partners should aim to put the needs of your pet first.

Can co-parenting pets work?

For some couples, co-parenting pets is an option that works for everyone. Discussing with your partner or partners on how you could put this into practice might be something you’d like to explore

Should this be an option you choose to take, it’s important to take a consistent approach in the care of your pet. Ensuring a familiar routine (including training) will help your pet adapt to this new arrangement.

But if your ex isn’t up for the idea, respect their boundaries. This may change over time, but it’s important not to put pressure on anyone.

It’s worth remembering however that not all pets will cope well with a co-parenting arrangement and it’s important to consider the impact of this on them. Although it may seem like the fairest compromise and one that you are both willing to do, ultimately what works best for the welfare and happiness of your pet needs to be at the heart of this decision.

And if you have kids 

Children and young people can form really strong, loving bonds with pets. If you’re in a partnership where you have children, it’s important to discuss how a separation from the family pet may impact them.

Who legally owns a pet?

Not all break ups are amicable and pets can get caught in the middle of a difficult separation. You may be seeking information about if you can legally own a pet as part of leaving a relationship.

Irrespective of who actually bought the pet and who's name might be on the chip, should this end up as a legal matter, then Courts may look at who took a greater role in the pets care and who has the closest relationship with them. The bond with the pet is very important, so will be a significant factor in deciding who should keep them. The Courts may also look at vet records, microchip details, receipts for food etc and even the number of personal photographs each person has of the pet.

If you’re working with your partner on keeping separation out of court, our separation planner can help you work through some tough questions.

You need space to grieve your relationship too

While you may want to keep regularly seeing a pet you and your partner shared together, consider if you are allowing yourself time to heal from your relationship.

The dynamics of a break up are different for everyone, but having a pause to readjust to your new ‘normal’ is an important step to heal and move on. What that looks like is different for all partners, and the length of time it takes is totally up to you .

And if you’re the person who has let go of their pet, you may not only be grieving your break up, but losing them as well.

Don’t let this sway your decision to stay together, if you’ve chosen to separate for other reasons

No matter how painful it is, it’s important to remind yourself why you and a partner are separating.

Even if it wasn’t initially your decision to part ways, a pet shouldn’t be the reason that you stay together. Like us, pets thrive better in calm and happy environments, and seeing arguments between owners could cause them stress.

If you’ve been figuring out whether you should break up with your partner, we have some guidance to help make your decision.   

Create space to reflect on happy memories of your pet

Whenever you’re ready to, reflecting on the memories you had with your pet can be a healing process.

You could make a photobook of mementos, test your artistic skills and make a painting or drawing, or find other creative ways to honour them. 

Visiting one of their favourite indoor or outdoor places maybe something else that you find comforting. 

Or even just looking back through photos, if it’s not painful for you to do so.

For more help in figuring out your break up, visit our separation planner now.

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