Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Taking the dog, abandoning the kids: My husband and I are divorcing. When we first got together, we argued a bit over the amount of kids we wanted to have—I wanted five, he wanted one or two—but we compromised. After the first was born, though, he said he didn’t want any more kids and started collecting dogs.
As now, he has four dogs versus our two children—and he wants nothing to do with the kids. He is actually suing me for custody of one of the dogs, a beagle the kids want to keep, but he is balking at paying alimony or taking the kids on his designated day. I have a lawyer and we are trying to work this out, but I need advice on what to tell the kids when Daddy would rather see Mr. Beagle instead of them.
A: The only upside I can see to this letter is that at least you get to divorce this guy and will be able to limit your future contact with him. There’s a limit to how much you can protect your children from the truth, which is that they seem to have a largely indifferent father who’s not especially interested in sharing custody or spending time with them. Hopefully you and your lawyer can make the case that it’s in your children’s best interest to keep their beloved beagle with them, but in the meantime, I think it’s best not to tell them too many details about the nature of your divorce proceedings. Something along the lines of “Your father and I are both working hard to figure out who gets what, and we’re working with lawyers to make sure that everything is fair and that you both get taken care of” would fit the bill, because it neither makes promises you can’t keep nor assigns benevolent intent on your ex’s part where none may exist. I hope you get to keep the beagle, and that the court ensures you get the alimony you’re entitled to.