You have said no to cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits and more. You have made the children aware of the “no pets” rule and discussed it with your ex-spouse.  The pickup time and place has been agreed upon and you rush off not wanting to be late. You arrive to find your child standing there with the biggest smile you have seen in months and a large box with a furry creature. Do you have to take it home? The answer is no. The rules you make for children in your home must be followed. Children do best where consistency exists. Spoiling or causing children to take sides interferes with parenting. Most parents don’t intentionally spoil a child or break the rules they do it out of guilt; or to make a child feel welcome in the ex’s new environment.

Refusing a pet the ex-spouse has gifted might make you the bad guy. As a parent, you will be the bad guy on more than one occasion. Communicating is the answer. Refuse the pet when you pick up the child, and if the spouse arrives with a pet, refuse the pet at the door. Once you allow the pet into your home, all the rules have changed. Remind the child or children of the rules you have established and “stick to your guns”. You don’t owe your children an explanation – you are the parent and you make the rules. Your ex-spouse has every right to have a pet in his/her home, and that is where the pet must stay.

After the refusal, talk to your ex. Convey your concerns in a conversational manner. Have the discussion alone and avoid involving the child. Psychologist and counselors suggest the parent who purchased the pet be the one to deliver what might be disappointing news. Conversations should not place blame on either parent. Explain the pet will be kept in the home of the parent who made the purchase and that parent will be responsible for caring for the pet during the child’s absence.

If pets are in the home prior to the divorce, they are treated as personal property. If the child or children are attached to the pet, the primary custodian (parent/care provider) usually maintains custody of the pet. Recently some courts have treated pets as children. They considered the best interest of the pet when deciding who should maintain custody and ordered shared custody, visitation and alimony. Most couples prefer to work out a contract between themselves and their attorneys.

Pets are helpful during and immediately following a divorce – offering children a sense of security, support and unconditional love, however they come at a cost and require constant care. Saying no might provoke rebellion, resentment and an adversarial relationship. Remember, consistently enforced age-appropriate rules provide structure and respect for authority. It is your responsibility to prepare your children for the real world. A world where “no” means “no.

Pickup time: Child standing there with the biggest smile you have seen in months and a box with new pets. Do you have to take them home? NO!

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