Bird’s nest custody is a fairly new concept to shared child custody arrangements where the child is the focus.
Child custody arrangements are not always about the children. While it would seem fairly obvious to many that those that are more vulnerable should be protected and cared for by those who are more robust and in control – it doesn’t always happen. ‘Me first’ syndrome and ‘I’ll hurt him as much as he hurt me’ disease are prevalent when it comes to deciding parenting arrangements. There can be fights that are about who gets the kids, rather then figuring our what is actually best for them. Bird’s nest custody, or ‘bird nesting’, has the child’s best interests at the centre.
Bird’s Nest Custody Means That Children Are Central in Parenting Arrangements
It is a concept that is taking off in the UK. This is according to recently published research by Co-op Legal Services, a UK based professional law group who have much experience in family law. Tracey Moloney, the Head of Family Law at Co-op Legal Services says “What we’re starting to see is a new custody arrangement emerging where instead of disrupting the children’s home life, the parents do the moving.” According to their research, 11% of divorced couples with children have not opted for the usual parenting arrangements but have opted for bird’s nest custody.
Moloney says, “Traditionally, where couples separate and have shared custody of their children, the marital home is sold and both parents each purchase or rent a new property. The children are then expected to move between both properties depending on whether they are at ‘mum’s’ or ‘dad’s’.” Some of these divorced couples, about 16%, who have opted for the more traditional path said that if they had their time again then they would try bird nesting for the sake of their children. “Moving from one parent’s property to another can be difficult for children. With this new custody arrangement, parents move in and out of the marital home depending on when they have custody of their children. . . Separation and divorce can be difficult and upsetting times for families. This new arrangement is very much about putting parents’ needs aside and focusing on the children,” says Moloney.
Bird’s Nest Custody is Not for Everyone
Of the divorced couples that were surveyed, 52% said that being able to keep their children in the family home would have caused much less angst and change for their kids. But it was less than half of this group that would try bird nesting given their time over, showing that there can be stumbling blocks to this concept. Kate Banerjee, another UK family law specialist, says “I would think long and hard about it, think of all the ramifications. I’d speak to either a mediator or a lawyer, just to make sure that you’re protected and that there aren’t any reasons why you would be disadvantaged by the scenario. Every case is different, so it’s important to tease out the pros and cons. These arrangements are typically driven by the desire to meet the children’s needs, but sometimes parents are naïve about the long-term implications. . .This type of arrangement simply cannot happen if parents don’t communicate well or there is any prospect of raised voices or unpleasantness in front of the children. All that does is prolong any disharmony, and of course the children are in the middle of it all.”
In 2014 in the UK there were 2,600 divorces granted and unnumbered separations. That’s a lot of children who can find themselves ‘lost’ between two parents. Divorce and separation can leave children feeling hurt, rejected and very confused – often wondering if they are to blame. This unsettling time is when they most need reassurance and stability. Bird’s nest custody, a practice that originally emerged in the US, can do this. In this kind of arrangement the children and family home are central to all other movements. Parents take turns at staying in the house and looking after the children. While there is change with parents sharing week on or week off, disruption for the children is kept to a minimum. For the times when that one parent isn’t staying in the family home, they might stay with relatives or rent a smaller property.
Bird’s Nest Custody: One Roof can be a Winner
Monica McGrath and Kent Kirkland are Canadian divorced parents who have bird’s nest custody of their two young children. It is a shared family home that neither of them have to move out of when it’s not their turn for custody. The house is designed for living together, but separately. It is designed so that the kids (and the parents) have no changes from week to week, except that one hallway gets locked so that the children just inhabit their own space and the custodial parent’s side of the house. The couple still occasionally borrow sugar from one another and call themselves friends.
“I still consider us a family. We have kids together, we’re still connected,” says Ms. McGrath of her ex-husband. “We need to be together raise our kids, no matter what our situation is. This home allows us to do that.” Although they only have a wall separating each other, the ex-couple don’t see one another often and mostly communicate via text. “It’s no different [from living across town] in the sense of being able to come and go and have my own life,” Mr. Kirkland says.
Bird’s nest custody can work well when there is good communication and cooperation between both parties. Therefore, understandably, there are many ex-couples that it won’t work for. When children’s best interests are being catered to, sometimes this type of parenting arrangement is not optimal. But if it is an option, then it’s certainly worth considering with your family law professional to help you explore the short and long-term possibilities of bird’s nest custody for your family.
Although bird’s nest custody does not grant the wish of most children of divorce – that Mum and Dad get back together – it does provide comfort for them as they learn to navigate the world post-divorce.
If you’d like to speak to one of our family lawyers about parenting arrangements then please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.