10 Tips On Sharing Your 'Best Friend' With Your Ex

Photo: Flickr/rosengrant

It’s easy enough to divvy up books after a split, but how do you draw a line down the middle of a living, breathing being – your pet?In “What About Wally? CO-PARENTING A PET WITH YOUR EX”, two experts in law and animal care wade through the stickiest legal and financial issues couples face when deciding how to split custody of their animals. 

“Pet parents suffer emotionally when “Wally” becomes part of the break-up,” says Steve May, founder of the Daily Growl, who co-authored the book with family law attorney David T. Pisarra

“We felt it was time for a book that acknowledges that reality and lends a hand.”

First, establish who's the rightful owner

One of you probably registered your pet with the city and renews the licence tag each year. This is the document the court is most likely to follow if ownership comes under question.

'Whoever registers the dog can be considered the dog's owner for litigation purposes, and since you have to prove that you have a legal right to the dog, just like you'd have to prove a legal right to a car, having the licence is your best bet,' the authors say.

Other ways to prove ownership: Records from The American Kennel Club, your veterinarian and any GPS locator or microchip.

Hammer out your custody arrangement

'I've learned that I can apply many of the same principles that I use for custody and visitation of children to the topic of how to share a (pet),' writes Pisarra.

Whether it's a dog or cat, routine is crucial to a pet's life, so both owners should agree to stick to the same schedule.

Try rotating every other week or switching off months if one partner lives far away.

Holidays are a common area of conflict, so hammer out where the little one(s) will spend big days like Christmas and the Fourth of July far enough in advance to make sure everyone's on board.

Decide whether you'll need pet support

'(Pet support) can be a very specific, hard fought battle involving copies of receipts, spreadsheets and calendars and insurance premium payments and co-pays,' the authors write.

For example, if one parent refuses to budge on those pricey behavioural classes, it might be prudent to set up a pet support plan.

Much like splitting medical costs, you might take an income-based approach to handling the bulk of your joint expenses.

Split costs into two categories: Extraordinary and Basic

Per the authors: 'Medical care, toys, training, daycare, kenneling, flea treatments, these are all costs that need to be shared.'

They split them into two categories to avoid conflict: Basic (toys, food, new leashes and collars) and extraordinary (medical treatment, daycare, fancy outfits, legal bills, etc.).

Basic purchases are usually covered by whoever has custody at the time. You'll have to arrange payment plans for the bigger purchases.

Come up with travel arrangements

Speaking of joint custody, it's probably unlikely you and your ex will decide to move next door to one another following the split.

That means you'll have to think carefully about how you'll transport your pet between homes.

Air travel is a hugely debated issue among pet owners, and you may not be keen on stuffing Fluffy in a cargo carrier every other month.

Some airlines let pets fly in the passenger cabin if they are under a certain weight. Otherwise, the writers recommend sticking with companies that specialize in pet transport (like UShip.com, for example).

What about daycare?

Couples who worked long hours likely they had a walker or some sort of daycare arrangement throughout the relationship.

But those services tend to be expensive and can become a contentious issue during a split, especially when it comes time to start signing checks.

A couple of solutions:

-One parent could agree to pay for the daycare services while other covers the pet's shots, which are often required for attendance.

-If you're hiring a sitter or walker, be sure you both agree on the person/service and personally vet them beforehand.

Don't take their diet for granted

Here's a hot button issue for exes: Food.

'Some people go so far as to cook for their pets,' the authors write. 'Others have the view that a dog is a disposal and composter.

But vets and trainers alike will tell you that no matter what you decide to feed your dog, consistency is the key to a healthy pet. Consistency in the type of food they are given, the amount, and the time.'

Pick the same brand of food for each household and promise to stick to the plan. Otherwise, your pet might gorge itself on the Fancy Feast at one house and turn up their nose at the generic brand kibble at another.

Limit squabbles over grooming

Taking your dog or cat for a summer trim may seem like a run-of-the-mill chore, but the writers devote a lot of advice to handling grooming.

First, it's not always about price. Most exes spar over the cut itself.

'Couples should decide to keep the dog groomed in a standard way, and agree on who pays based on custody,' they write.

'They can split the costs based on the amount of time that each Parent has Wally, or they can do it based on income levels, or a combination of all of the above. Generally we recommend people have a set selection of 'looks' Wally can have, that way there's less room for conflict.'

Navigate the ultimate minefield: medical care

Whether your pooch has a splinter or needs potentially life-saving surgery, it's in your best interest to decide in advance how to handle extreme pet care.

'The issues of what is acceptable; how far to go with treatment; who pays for it; compliance with medication plans; and changes in visitation schedules based on recovery times are just some of the issues that people need to think about,' they write.

Decide how you'll handle medical payments

Once you've picked a treatment plan, the next step is how to handle payment.

Here are three ways:

-Base payments on income. If partner A makes twice that of partner B, then he or she will cover twice as much.

-Base payments on custody. If one parents has the pet 80% of the time, he or she will cover that portion of the bill.

-Make a limit. If one parent decides to cap his or her contribution at, say, $1,000 then parent B will have to agree to cover any treatment outside that range.

Make sure your insurance plan is squared away

If both owners are listed on the insurance policy, you'll need to be sure you agree on who will pay and change your billing and mailing information as necessary.

Yes, your premium could change depending on your address, but chances are you won't want your insurance checks winding up in your ex's hands if you can help it.

'Most pet insurance companies cannot handle multiple bank accounts or addresses for premium payments nad claims reimbursement depending on who paid for the vet bill,' they write. 'You should include how you're going to do this in your divorce settlement.'

Now that you know where Wally is staying >

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