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Parenting After Divorce: Have You Heard of "Bird's Nest" Co-Parenting?

Would you ever try this to keep the kids from moving between homes?

Published on: August 10, 2016

“I’m like a nomad. I live out of a box,” joked one of my high school friends, while packing-up some clothes. For almost a decade she had switched weekly between her parents’ homes and, while routine, it was inconvenient. Enter: the bird’s nest co-parenting trend.

Minimizing disruption

The bird’s nest is as the name implies: The kids stay in the nest — the family home — and the parents come and go to care for the children. The goal, ultimately, is to provide the children of divorcing parents with a consistent base and protect them from some of the upheaval and inconvenience that a split inevitably causes. As usual, these noble intentions do not always align with the reality of the arrangement.

A post-divorce relationship question

The first question you must ask is whether you and your ex are amicable enough to continue sharing a nest, even though you won’t be living there at the same time.

“The parents will continue to share possessions, bills and responsibilities,” says attorney Joshua E. Stern. “The maintenance of the home will continue to be an issue, with neither parent having any more say or control than the other. The parents are likely to question and resent the other’s financial decisions.” 

Other types of resentment can easily flare up, too.

“What if one parent buys groceries. Can the other parent consume them during their time? What if one parent fails to unload the dishwasher time and time again, leaving it to the arriving parent?” asks attorney Chloe S. Wolman. “These may seem like petty issues, but they will often lead to serious arguments. If you want to be free of your ex, this is not the parenting plan for you.”

The goal is to provide children of divorcing parents with a consistent base and protect them from some of the upheaval and inconvenience that a split inevitably causes.

Bird nesting isn’t cheap

The financial burden of the bird nest trend must also be considered because, in most cases, it’s essentially the maintenance of three properties.

“Both parents would have to contribute to the expenses of the main house as well as the expenses of their respective apartments,” Wolman says. “Instead of two homes for two parents, there are three homes for two parents.” says Wolman. Of course, some parents are able to stay with family or friends when not in the nest.

While one central location for the kids can alleviate some stress, in the long term it’s not practical, says attorney Kristin M. Lis.

“I just can’t see how it’s financially feasible for most families to do this on a permanent basis,” she says. “As much as parents would like to insulate their kiddos from drama and trauma, if a parenting plan is done in a predictable and recurring manner it’s not nearly as difficult for the kids to follow along as you would imagine. The kids come to know and become fond of the predictability and structure, and it’s really not that big of an issue to have two of everything anymore.”

Consider your personal life

If your ex-spouse’s life is still so intertwined with yours — after all, in the bird’s nest you are sharing space, even if you’re not necessarily in it together — this co-parenting situation could pose problems.

“The bird’s nest makes it hard for parents to move on emotionally, knowing that their ex will be in ‘their’ home and sleeping in ‘their’ bed in only a few short days,” says Wolman.

And if you’re attempting to date or maintain a serious relationship, the bird’s nest could put a serious kink in your endeavors.

“If they are to spend every other week in a separate home, can they bring their significant other? How will this affect their ability to remarry?” says Stern. “The parents will have no privacy in the home, knowing that anything they leave behind may be easily discovered by their ex.” 

Carrying the burden of moving back and forth so that your kids don’t have to, is certainly well-intentioned, but would it actually make their lives easier? Or would your stress destabilize them to a greater degree?

“Not having a new nest will have negative impact on the parties’ ability to move on,” says Lis, who reminds divorcing couples to consider the tensions that surround divorce. “In the months when the divorce is taking place, emotions are highest. It’s not that great of an idea to have frequent exposure and interaction with your soon-to-be ex.”

When does it work?

If you and your former spouse are amicable, altruistic and emotionally detached from one another, then the bird’s nest could work. It’s also a viable option in families where one parent is routinely away or traveling, perhaps for business or military service.

“I worked with a couple where mom worked a regular job in Los Angeles and dad was an actor shooting a television show abroad,” Wolman says. “Dad was out of the country nine or 10 months out of the year but when he was home, the parties swapped in and out of the main residence.”

However, as Lis points out: “The bird’s nest can create some serious confusion for the kids and give them false hope that things will return to normal and Mom and Dad will get back together again.” And the potential for this false hope, makes honest communication a non-negotiable.

“For post-divorce life to remain peaceful, the children must have a full understanding of the parents’ living arrangement,” says attorney W. Scott Kimberly. “That includes an explanation of the divorce process at an appropriate age.”

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