Written by attorney Angela I. Green

Bird's Nest Custody: Will it Work for You?

Similar to the life of baby birds, "bird's nest custody" is an arrangement where the divorcing parents move in and out of the a single home, while the children remains.

The reasons divorcing couples choose nesting as an alternative to the traditional co-parenting or visitation schedules are numerous. Whether faced with difficult financial circumstances, good intentions to maintain the marital home for the benefit of their children, or to maintain a physical stable home for the benefit of the children, nesting is often a residential alternative.

The effects of divorce on children

The research community recognizes that the negative effects of divorce on children have been exaggerated in the past. Conflict is the most critical determining factor in children’s adjustment post-divorce, not the divorce itself, or the residential parenting arrangement.

The scientific literature indicates that children’s psychological reactions to their parents' divorce are dependent on three main factors:

  1. quality of the parent-child relationship pre-divorce
  2. the intensity and duration of the parental conflict
  3. the parents’ ability to prioritize the needs of the children during the divorce process.

Children learn at home how to resolve conflict and how to be in relationships with others. The more conflict there is between the divorcing parents, the longer children hold on to the notion of their parents’ reconciliation is possible. Hence, healthy, constructive conflict resolution skills and processes such as collaborative divorce or mediation, benefit the divorcing parents and their children during and after the divorce.

The nesting arrangement

The difficulties with the nesting arrangement vary greatly and depend on each family’s circumstance. When prioritizing children’s needs in the context of parenting arrangements, the goal is to minimize conflict. After all, divorce is the exit strategy from home-grown relationship conflict.

While considering the nesting options, parents have the opportunity to analyze and reflect candidly at the sources of conflict in the marriage while planning for the future. If more conflict is created with the nesting alternative, parents can rest assure that other co-parenting arrangements are available and are successfully being implemented every day.

Parents who contemplate bird's nest custody could reflect on minimizing conflict post-divorce by considering the following questions:

  • Who’s house is this anyway?
  • Who will hold the title, mortgage or lease?
  • Later when we sell the house, how do you split the equity?
  • What happens if one of us is unable to pay the mortgage or lease?
  • When will we sell? What if we do not agree to sell?
  • Who is responsible for the monthly bills?
  • What about the minor repairs and improvements: the wall needs paint, who will decide the color?

The cost of major repairs or necessary improvements will also need to be considered. Who will call the repair man and pay the bills? Housekeeping? Whose turn is when? What about food and food choices? Can we manage two residences? Can we afford them?

While there are many well intended parents, divorce is a difficult and stressful emotional and financial process. From the point of view of the child's development and well being, the parents' focus is clear: maintain a focus on the child's best interests at a time when they are vulnerable to disappointment, confusion, anger, anxiety, and guilt.

The children of divorcing parents can overcome their parent’s separation and learn how to form healthy relationships with others as long as their parents are able to demonstrate constructive conflict resolution skills, processes such as divorce mediation or collaboration, and the ability to create workable co-parenting schedules, responsibilities, and priorities

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