There are very few life events more Earth-shattering for a child than when his or her parents divorce.
Research shows that children do best in stable households where they know what to expect and feel, but that stability is difficult to maintain while shuffling from house to house throughout the week. To try to establish a more steady routine some divorced families are setting up what are called “bird’s nest” custody arrangements.
Here’s how bird’s nest custody works: Instead of the child going back and forth from Mom’s house to Dad’s, they remain in the family residence and each parent moves in and out of the house around them. In theory, this allows a simpler transition for the child/children through the divorce since there is less disruption to their living situation.
This arrangement is thought to have started in 2000 in the United States when a Virginia court agreed that the best solution for two children involved them remaining in the family home while their mother lives with them during the week and their dad moving in on weekends.
It continues to gain in popularity and has even been depicted in two U.S. TV series: Transparent and The Affair.
How to make bird’s nest parenting work
Bird’s nest arrangements are not for everyone, however.
First of all, the parents must live near enough to each other that they can conveniently move in and out of the house each week.
It is also imperative for the parents to have an amicable relationship. Even though you’re not technically living with your ex anymore, you are still spending significant time in the same household and that requires a large degree of communication.
If you just aren’t able to find a way to get along, then that’s going to lead to bickering, which can affect your kids. In a scenario like this, a bird’s nest arrangement would be counterproductive as it’s the parental conflict associated with divorce – rather than the actual divorce itself – that is most harmful for children.
If you think you can work out a bird’s nesting arrangement, you should consider drafting up a list of ground rules that goes over household and house maintenance arrangements. This could include things like changing the bed linens, who is responsible for household chores, and other various daily tasks.
Cons of bird’s nest parenting
There are some additional downsides to bird’s nest custody you should be aware of before trying to make it work.
The arrangement can be very costly if each parent tries to live in a separate home outside the family residence. That literally triples the number of homes being maintained.
It might be a better idea to live in a smaller apartment when you’re not in the family home. In that case, it’s possible to even reduce expenses since you no longer need two bedrooms, two sets of toys and furniture for your children.
Some parents might find it difficult to start new relationships when they’re still sharing a home with their ex. And when one parent does start dating again, bird’s nesting can suddenly get very complicated. It’s not easy sharing a bedroom with your ex and her new boyfriend, even if you are on friendly terms.
There are negatives for children too. It’s not uncommon for kids to hold on to hope that their parents will eventually get back together, and bird’s nesting can create the false impression that eventual reconciliation is still a possibility.
None of this is to say that bird’s nesting can’t work. For a lot of families, this arrangement is ideal and minimizes disruptions to the children’s day-to-day life.
But it is one of the most challenging custody setups and can be a disaster if you and your ex don’t get along. As with every post-divorce decision, keep in mind what is truly in the best interest of your kids and act accordingly.