You have heard of “empty nest” but have you ever heard of “bird nesting”? Probably not. That’s because it is a very unique approach to co-parenting and child custody that is gaining traction. Basically, the idea is that when mom and dad split up or divorce, the children remain in the home full-time while the parents take turns living with them. This can be a very difficult situation to pull off, admittedly, but it is absolutely possible and can be very healthy for children.
This kind of approach to shared custody requires both parents to sacrifice some personal comforts for the common goal of disrupting the children as little as possible after divorce. So what makes this so hard? Well, lots of things, actually.
There are difficulties that cannot be avoided in bird nesting child custody. Both parents absolutely must have a genuine respect for each other’s privacy and they must be able to cooperate and treat each other with civility. Especially when the parents also share the residence outside the home, there is very little privacy to be had. You effectively still share a home with your ex, they’re just never home at the same time as you. You still share the same kitchen, laundry, and bathrooms.
The cost can be prohibitive for a lot of families. In order to afford it, most people have to rent a studio or one bedroom apartment in addition to the former shared residence. This can certainly work, but as I said above, it requires a lot of mutual respect and cooperation. For each parent to have their own separate residence outside of the former shared home starts getting quite expensive, and will not be an option for most families. That said, if you can afford it and it makes the process easier, then by all means explore that option.
In either situation, what happens when mom and dad start dating other people? It can be hard enough to explain to your new SO that you share custody of your children with your ex, but imagine explaining that you still share a house together. Again, it is not impossible by any means, but it requires trust and open-mindedness.
So if this kind of custody is so hard, why even try to do it? Well, there are many potential benefits. There are also some good rules of thumb to keep in mind that can make it run smoothly.
In terms of benefits, the obvious one is the lack of disruption to the children’s lives. They still have their home, their room, and everything they have always known. They still have their neighborhood friends, routines and continuity. Psychologically, adults are more able to cope with changes than children, and bird nesting custody allows parents to bear the brunt of the changes mentally. Some people also view bird nesting custody as a way for parents to take responsibility for their own actions. Put more bluntly, if mom and dad messed up the marriage, they should be the ones who deal with the fallout, not the kids.
So how can you make this work? First, bird nesting custody works best as a transition period. It is very important to have a clear end date in place. When the youngest child turns 18, for example, or for a set duration such as one year. When the time period ends, one parent can buy out the other’s interest in the home, or they can sell the home and divide any proceeds or deficits accordingly. These decisions should all be made ahead of time and should be clearly outlined in a separation agreement or property settlement.
This type of arrangement also works best when parents share child custody equally, or as near to equally as possible. If one parent only has every other weekend with the kids, the benefits of bird nesting may diminish to the point of being ridiculous.
Having a well-drafted and clear agreement regarding schedule, ground rules, and expectations in place is critical. Household chores, maintenance and upkeep need to be pre-decided. Continuity in discipline, rules, and child-raising techniques must be clear. Parents must be willing to adhere to the agreed-upon provisions as closely and exactly as possible. Later on, it may be possible to become more fluid and flexible as everyone adjusts to the new lifestyle, but clear guidelines and strict adherence in the beginning can avoid a lot of fights.
Speaking of fights, parents have to be willing to minimize their arguing, especially in front of the children. They need to be able to prioritize making the agreement work over personal disagreements or hurt feelings. This isn’t to say there won’t be any arguing at all of course, but keeping the children away from the conflicts should always be paramount.
Bird nesting child custody can be a very healthy and minimally disruptive way to make the transition from family to divorced family. As with all custody decisions, you should take your time and fully explore all options available to you, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution for family issues. Hinson Family Law helps people make these decisions every day, and we are here for you as well. Please do not hesitate to contact us and schedule a consultation today.