Raising children during a divorce is one of the toughest challenges a family can face.
Personal circumstances and limited finances can make shared parenthood hard to navigate, but a co-parenting trend known as bird nesting is believed to be beneficial for everyone involved.
The nesting method is a type of co-parenting custody arrangement in which children reside in the marital home while the parents rent a modest apartment, allowing each ex-spouse to take turns spending time with their children in the main family home.
As with any parenting plan during separation or divorce, this has its pros and pitfalls and comes with many things to consider.
Let’s shed light on what we mean by a bird nest divorce, the ideal time frame for this type of arrangement, dating during nesting, and more.
Deciding upon a “bird nest” arrangement during or after divorce requires a great deal of consideration.
In the early stages, it can help both parents to speak to a professional mediator to discuss their intentions. For now, let’s find out more about how this method works.
How Does Co-Parent Nesting Work?
Co-parenting nesting typically sees the separated couple rent a one-bedroom apartment or some other small additional space separate from the family home.
When Parent A spends time with the children, they move into the marital home while Parent B lives in the rented home.
When it is Parent B’s time with the children, they move to live in the family home, and Parent A returns to the other living space.
This process where parents take turns may be brief or continue as long as the ex-partners and children are comfortable with it.
Unlike traditional custody arrangements post-divorce that grant majority custody to one parent and only visitation rights to another, a schedule like this will only work if both parents can come to a joint or equal custody schedule.
Otherwise, renting an additional home for brief and unbalanced visitations will not be worthwhile to the parents financially or to the children emotionally.
How Long Can Nesting Last?
The duration of a family nesting period can be entirely dependent on your family circumstances.
Divorced couples may decide to let nesting take its course and take their cue from how their children are settling into things.
Alternatively, you may set a specific milestone for the end of nesting such as school graduation, the end of the school year, or the divorce/sale of the house being finalized.
The flexible nature of this arrangement means it can also work well for parents who are in a trial separation.
This way, the children’s lives and routines do not need to be disrupted while both parents take the time to decide whether a divorce is the right option.
In this case, it may only be a short-term arrangement and perhaps one that is less confusing and an easier adjustment for kids than if one parent were to move out right away.
Nesting for longer may make sense in your circumstances, but according to the experts, nesting is best kept as a short-term solution.
“I’ve never seen ‘nesting’ go on forever” notes long-term family law and matrimonial attorney in New York, Sherri Sharma.
“A few months is okay but for longer periods (beyond six months), I think the uncertainty of not knowing what it will really be like to have separate homes can be confusing or anxiety-[inducing] for children.”
Not only may long-term nesting run the risk of leading children to hold on to false hopes of reconciliation, but the financial reality of running two separate homes for long periods also may not be feasible for many, not to mention the emotional drag that prevents ex-partners from moving on with their lives.
Pros and Cons of a Nesting Divorce
Benefits of Bird Nest Divorce
An arrangement like this can make the transition into a new chapter easier for both the children and the divorcing partners. Some of the pros of this decision are:
Kids Remain in a Familiar Environment
Mental health clinician Celeste Viciere notes the importance of consistency that nesting can bring at a time when children are already dealing with the emotional reality of parents who no longer love each other.
“It allows kids to come to terms with the divorce without being separated from the environment they have always known.”
Social Lives Remain Intact
In the aftermath of divorce, some children go on to live with one parent in a separate location.
This can mean a change to their local friendship groups and even a change of school. In the maelstrom of divorce, nesting helps keep these crucial parts of their lives constant.
Reduced Post-Marital Housing Costs & Stress
By only renting a modest one-bedroom place for parents to rotate between, parents keep costs low compared to contending with the utility bills and other costs of keeping two main homes.
This short-term studio apartment share can also give parents a breather when it comes to making decisions on property division — making life-altering decisions to buy/sell property in the eye of the divorce storm (without a plan) is a recipe for chaos.
Bird Nesting Drawbacks
The main disadvantages of nesting lie in the financial and emotional burden (with the latter affecting the parents more than the kids in some cases).
False Sense of Security
Despite good intentions, what began as a method of helping your kids cope with the transition may lead to children developing a false hope that you can work as a couple once again.
On the flip side, some children may feel more comfortable and relieved when parents make a clean break, especially if the relationship was fraught beforehand.
Financial Issues May Deepen Rifts
While you still co-own the marital home, issues of bills and home repairs may throw up arguments like “Why should I have to pay for X/Y/Z when you’re going to get the house after the nesting period anyway?”
This is why discussing this aspect with a mediator is so important.
Parents May Find It Hard To Move On
Divorce traditionally meant “going our separate ways,” but rotating between homes in this way could make closure hard to come by if you are still sharing the marital home.
If one of you starts dating again, for instance, how will the other parent (or children) respond to the new presence in the family home?
Considerations Before Bird Nesting
It is not as simple as rotating between two homes to parent your child. There are many factors you need to consider before implementing this method.
Expert divorce coach and founder of Divorce and Children Christina McGhee recommends asking the following questions:
- How to share care of the children
- Developing a consistent plan for what information you share with the kids
- Who lives in which house and on what days?
- How will weekends and holidays work?
- When and how will finances be separated?
- How will you manage privacy (emotional and physical space)?
- How will sleeping arrangements work?
- Will you adjust expectations of each other? What should change/stay the same?
- Decide on the timing and time frame of the transition
Co-Parenting in the Same Family Home
For financial or personal reasons, some separated couples decide to remain in the same house to raise the kids.
With the right approach, this style can work as amicably as nesting.
Here are some suggestions to help make this work:
- Nurture relationships with extended family: Maintaining healthy bonds with your child’s cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents will help your child feel loved and supported by all.
- Never fight or argue with your ex in front of the kids.
- Follow the 3 Cs: whether co-parenting in the same house or bird nesting, family law attorney and child welfare expert Elle Barr advises parents to remember the 3 Cs: Communicate, Cooperate, and Compromise
- Take time to redefine your new relationship with the other parent: Are we simply us as before but without the physical intimacy? Do we need to set more boundaries? Do we share planned time with the kids or prefer to see them one-on-one? Etc.
- Discuss the practical sides of living together: Are you sticking to previous roles in terms of who did the dishes or took out the garbage, or will you discuss a new cleaning/household routine?
Nesting Plan While Dating
Depending on the people involved, dating may work during nesting, but you’ll need to consider the impact of a crowded nest!
It’s a controversial stance, but based on the experience of some bird-nesting parents, nesting works best in the short-term transitional phase where a new significant other is unlikely to be in the mix.
Not only can this new relationship be an additional emotional and mental element for your kids to come to terms with, but it also may not be fair to the new partner in question.
Would the new partner live in two separate places also? How might privacy and division of bills work then? Etc.
Other Questions About Bird Nesting Divorce:
Is It Better for Kids To Stay in the Same House After a Divorce?
It can be more beneficial for children to remain in the same house following a divorce as the constant of their familiar home environment can help with this transition.
In many cases, staying in the same home may also mean that a child’s school and friendship circle remain the same.
Is Co-Parenting Better Than Staying Together?
This is a deeply personal decision, dependent wholly on the relationship between the ex-spouses and what feels right for the children.
Co-parenting offers flexibility for partners who find it impossible to stay together, but the effects of your relationship ending will be felt by the kids either way.
Is Co-Parent Nesting Right for Me?
The decision to bird nest is a deeply personal one and will depend on the nature of your relationship with your ex, your finances, and, most importantly, what’s best for your children.
Involving the kids in your decision and discussing your intentions openly and honestly with an experienced mediator can go a long way toward simplifying what can be an overwhelming time, emotionally and financially.
Good luck with this new chapter.
Rebecca is a seasoned copywriter and researcher with over a decade of experience, specializing in parenting topics. With a passion for all aspects of raising children, from breastfeeding to potty training.