Will a pet help my child through a divorce?
Pediatricians say that children who have caring parents and live in a stable and consistent environment will continue to thrive – even if they suffer temporary setbacks such as their parents divorcing.
A pet can contribute to that atmosphere of love by offering a calm, steady presence. And care of a pet can be a factor in determining child custody payments.
Each state has its own guidelines for establishing child support payments by the non-custodial parent. A pet’s support and medical needs can be incorporated into this model for its foreseeable lifetime.
The costs can be considerable, given the plethora of specialty diets, petsitting needs of a two-income household, and perhaps repairing any damage inflicted by the animal.
While the costs per year to maintain a pet run from $1,000 to $4,000, it may be substantial to the custodial parent depending on his or her income.
Courts are increasingly considering pets as offspring rather than as property when determining custody post-divorce although this continues to be a sticky area in which out-of-court mediation is encouraged.
This change in status represents the reality that pets are often considered family members rather than objects, particularly when evaluating their impact on quality of life and emotional support.
To that end, courts are evaluating whether one person was more attached to the animal than the other, whether one brought the pet into the relationship, or whether one might have inflicted cruelty on the pet at any time.
If there are children involved in a divorce custody situation, any pet is likely to move with the children for visitation, whether it be half-time at each parent’s home or Wednesdays and every other weekend.
The custodial parent will then generally be the pet’s primary caregiver, responsible for veterinary appointments, food purchases, and even hiring pet-sitters or walkers. Thus the non-custodial parent is likely to make maintenance payments for the pet’s needs as well as the children’s.
Ways that a pet helps a child through turmoil
Pets are becoming more than family members – they are often seen as sources of emotional support, whether that title is legally conferred or not.
Some claim that just stroking the fur of a pet helps individuals calm down, reduce stress, and release beneficial hormones. But for children the effect of having a pet in the family can be compounded in times of emotional upheaval.
Consider that children don’t think the same way as adults do. They talk to their stuffed animals, and may consider the family pet a protector rather than companion, imagining that the animal has special powers and abilities. This protection can extend to emotional upsets as much as to unknown boogeymen lurking under their beds.
When a confusing and upsetting situation arises in a child’s household, he or she may not have the maturity or sophistication to address fears that arise or other emotions that churn inside.
In these instances a pet can be a reassuring presence, even more so than a parent who is dealing with his or her own emotions. Many sources believe that the stress reduction and non judgemental companionship that pets offer can help children through periods like the divorce of parents, moving households, and loss of a loved one.
Consistency is key
- Divorce up-ends a child’s life by removing a key player. A pet can help to counter that, particularly for single children, by providing a constant companion that has a calming effect;
- Routines such as walking a dog, feeding a cat, or grooming an animal provide a child with responsibilities that ground him;
- Providing an upbeat companion, such as a dog that is happy and excited to see a child after school each day, can dampen the association of home with turmoil and unhappiness while parents are divorcing;
- A pet is a portable security blanket – some kids retreat to their bedrooms or seek to immerse themselves in video games when upset. Since a pet can move with the child there’s a continual sense of peace and comfort.
Surrogacy and pets
Speaking with children about divorce, especially children with an autism syndrome, including telling them that a parent is leaving, that the family will move, or the conditions of custody, can be painfully difficult for any parent. But a pet’s presence can make the conversation easier for both parent and child.
- A pet is usually an animal that was taken from its parent at a young age, allowing the human parent to draw a comparison between the dog or cat and the child involved in a divorce situation;
- Discussing the child’s role as the pet’s caretaker during an episode of family turmoil can make the child feel important and trusted rather than forgotten and disregarded;
- Reassuring the child that the pet will be a consistent part of his life may help bridge the painful parts of missing a noncustodial parent or relocating;
- Studies show many benefits that having a pet provides to a child, and empathy is one. Comparing divorce to a necessary veterinary procedure to improve the health of a pet