Clients often ask whether a nesting arrangement (also called “bird nesting”) in a child custody or divorce matter is a good idea. There is no right or wrong answer, as it depends upon the specific separating parents, the children, and the ultimate goals for the client and family.
What is a nesting arrangement?
The term “nesting” or “bird nesting” is derived from the concept that when a baby bird hatches, the chick stays in the nest while the parents come and go from the nest to care for the chick. In terms of child custody, “nesting” is a shared custody arrangement where the children (the chicks) remain in the former family home at all times, and the parents (the adult birds) take turns staying at the home for their parenting time with the children. The “off-duty” parent leaves the house and stays at a separate residence, only to return when it is their time to care for the children pursuant to a predetermined parenting schedule.
What are the pros of a nesting arrangement?
- Fewer changes for the children – in general, children’s routines and schedules will remain similar as only the parents are rotating in and out of the home.
- Stability for the children – the children are allowed to remain in the home where they have resided, feel comfortable, and know, without the disruptions of moving to a new home or transitioning back and forth between the two parents’ homes.
- Provides parents with additional time to find alternative long-term housing with sufficient space for overnight parenting time with the children.
- May save the parents money in the short term – rather than obtaining a second residence with sufficient space for overnight parenting time, the parent who is “off duty” can stay with family, friends, or obtain a small, less expensive residence which the two separating parents can even share.
What are the cons of a nesting arrangement?
- Logistics – often, if parents are divorcing or separating, they may find it difficult to come to an agreement about anything, let alone make decisions relating to the logistics of nesting arrangements. The logistical decisions may include the parenting schedule, who pays for what expenses (and what happens if one party incurs additional expenses/costs based upon their preferences – i.e. running air conditioning all of the time, which increases the electric bill), how is the alternate residence (or residences) paid for, who buys food (including what kind and how much), etc. The inability to make these decisions easily may spill over into arguments between the parents in front of the children.
- Differences in lifestyle – since the parents will continue to share a space, disagreements often arise as to how the home is left for the other parent (i.e., is the laundry done, are there dishes in the sink, is the bed made, is the house picked up, is there food in the home for the children, etc.).
- Lack of privacy – if there is a lack of trust between the parents, there will be a concern that the other parent may damage or remove the belongings of the other parent or that one parent may look through private paperwork or files left at the home.
- Delaying the children’s ability to process the separation or divorce – by continuing to live in the home with both parents, the parents may be providing the children with a false sense of hope and prolong upset about the parents’ separation. The children may be left thinking that the parents remain together or may get back together in the future when the ultimate plan is for the parents to separate completely.
- May be more expensive in the long run – funding two (or three) separate residences for longer periods of time while nesting may increase costs over time. Similarly, parents remain financially intertwined while nesting, which provides less of a clean break.
- Emotionally more difficult – as the parents still reside together (although they do not spend time together in the same house), it may be more painful because they will continue to see the other parent’s belongings in the house and not fully process the separation. Parents will also remain more connected than if they separated completely and moved into separate homes, which may be difficult for some parents.
In general, nesting can be an incredibly difficult endeavor for parents and children. While the idea of nesting has been around for a long time, it does not happen frequently and often does not end well. In addition, recent research has suggested that children are incredibly resilient and can do just as well socially, emotionally, and educationally in separate households with their separated parents as those children who remain in intact homes. The decision to nest should not be taken lightly, and all pros and cons should be considered.
If you are thinking nesting may be appropriate for you and your family, you should consider the following:
- Nesting requires a high level of trust, respect, and communication between parents.
- It is important to agree in advance to a specific parenting schedule that details exactly who is responsible for caring for the children, where, and for how long.
- It is also important to agree in advance as to who will be responsible for what household chores, responsibilities, and payment of expenses.
- If possible, each parent should have a separate private bedroom/space in the home to stay during their parenting time so that each parent retains some level of privacy in the shared home.
- You and the other parent should make it clear to the children that you are separating and will not be getting back together. =If accurate, you should also let the children know that the nesting arrangement is likely temporary while the parents take care of obtaining completely separate residences.
- Enlist the assistance of a child or family therapist to help navigate the process and best support the children.
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