Is bird nesting the new trend for co-parenting following divorce, and is it right for you?
A “bird’s nest” co-parenting arrangement is one that is uniquely child-centered. Rather than the children having to adapt to the parents’ needs and living in two separate dwellings, they remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out. During the time parents are not at home with the kids, they live in a separate dwelling, which can either be on their own or rotated with the other parent. It is a novel yet sensible arrangement, as children experience much less disruption in their lives and routines than having to shuttle and adapt to completely new living arrangements.
Clearly, bird nesting will work for some but not all parents. A bird’s nest arrangement will only work if parents live in close proximity, or are able to be in the family home when it is their turn for parenting the kids. In some cases, bird nesting won’t be any more expensive than parents living in two separate households.
Bird nesting works best when parents are able to separate their co-parenting responsibilities from their previous marital conflicts, and remain amicable and cooperative as they confer about continuing household arrangements and the children’s needs. Both need to be prepared to maintain a certain level of consistency of purpose, discipline, and child-raising techniques to make it work well; this means being able to communicate clearly and peacefully rather than taking each discussion as an opportunity to argue. Household and house maintenance arrangements, and ground rules, must be absolutely clear, and each parent must closely stick to the agreed-upon arrangements; over time, as they settle into the new lifestyle, more flexible arrangements are possible. A clearly drafted co-parenting plan or negotiated schedule at the outset is essential.
Often, this form of co-parenting will end when the youngest child reaches the age of majority, at which time one parent may either buy the other out of their interest in the family home, or it is sold and the proceeds divided pursuant to the matrimonial property regime or separation agreement.
A bird’s nest arrangement is about ensuring that children’s lives are minimally disrupted, while the adults, who are theoretically more able to cope with the disruption, bear the brunt of the changes. Children are reassured to know that even though their parents are divorcing, they will be able keep the routine, continuity, and permanency to which they are accustomed. They remain in the family home, their school and neighborhood friendships can continue uninterrupted, and of course they are able to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents, which is crucial to their ongoing well-being.
The Downside to Bird Nesting
Many of the downsides to bird nesting are financial in nature – and depend on how well you can manage conflict.
In traditional divorce, both parties split their assets and move on – it’s a clean break. But if you have agreed on bird nesting, financial issues can become more blurred. Who will pay the bills? What if you don’t earn similar wages? Who pays for what and how? What happens if one of you wants to sell the home down the track?
Then there’s the issue of child support. How is child support calculated if both parents are still technically living together? Who gets it and who pays it? Is it paid at all?
What about that other residence/s? Who pays for that and how are shared expenses handled?
What happens when utility bills or the mortgage isn’t paid on time? What happens if one of you loses their job?
Then there is the emotional side of bird nesting. Presumably, you are divorcing because you don’t want to be married to the other person – you want your own, independent life. Bird nesting can make this independence tougher.
Will you have separate bedrooms in the family home, or will you continue to sleep on your side of the bed when you’re there but alone? What if one of you leaves the house a mess and one of you is always cleaning up?
Then there’s the issue of privacy.
What happens to the items you left in your shared space while you’re not there? What happens if one of you starts a new relationship? Are you happy for that person to visit the family home?
The main question that will inevitably be raised is: what happens when one of you no longer wants to continue this arrangement?
The key to a successful bird nesting arrangement is to ensure that you have a thoughtfully considered parenting plan in place that deals with these issues individually so that the potential for conflict is reduced.