For anyone with children thinking about divorce, one of the most important issues to address is how time will be divided with their children, both during the divorce process and once the divorce is finalized. The most common way for parents to address parenting time is for one parent move out of the marital home and the children to go back and forth between their parent’s homes. While this may be the most common time-sharing method; for some, due to their financial constraints, it may not be financially feasible for one parent to secure a separate residence during the divorce. In other circumstances, neither parent may be willing to move out of the marital home, for non-financial reasons. For example, both parents may want to maintain the home after the divorce; therefore, neither parent may be willing to move out. Whatever the reason, parents may be forced to continue to live together and share parental responsibilities during the divorce proceeding. Doing so, however, may result in heightened conflict in the home, which ultimately impacts the children.
There is, however, a middle ground between one parent moving out and transporting the children back and forth, and parents continuing to live together. This option is known as “nesting” or a “bird’s nest co-parenting arrangement”. This arrangement is uniquely child-centered, as it involves the children remaining in the marital home full-time and the parents rotating in and out. This arrangement is usually temporary, but it allows the children more time to adapt to having one parent care for them at a time, as well as the other changes in the family that stem from the divorce. For those parents interested in minimizing the disruption to the children’s lives caused by divorce, nesting may be an option to consider.
In order to successfully implement a nesting arrangement, parents may live in separate areas within the home or, more commonly, in another location when they are not caring for the children. Some parents share an off-site location, such as a studio apartment. Others stay with friends or family in order to avoid the expense of obtaining a second residence.
Nesting may seem extreme, however, this arrangement allows both parents to experience first-hand what it will be like for their children when they have to go back and forth between their parents’ homes. This perspective may make it easier to relate with the children once the divorce is finalized and the family transitions to a more traditional parenting time arrangement.
Clearly, a nesting arrangement will not work for every family. In order for nesting to be successful, parents must make a significant sacrifice and truly be willing to place their children’s needs above their own. Anyone considering a nesting arrangement should consider the following tips:
- Determine if Nesting is right for your children: The children’s ages and maturity levels are of utmost importance. Parents should consider seeking the advice of a therapist to assist in determine whether nesting will benefit the children.
- Parents must be able to communicate with each other regularly about the children. Parents do not have to like each other or even get along to accomplish a nesting arrangement, they just need to act rationally (rather than emotionally) and put the children’s needs first.
- Develop a written agreement regarding time-sharing, household duties and payment of household expense. Parents must develop and agree on the parameters of the arrangement. This agreement should include not only a schedule for when each parent will be at the family home, but also who will pay the bills, do the laundry, purchase groceries, transport the children to activities, etc.
- Secure an off-site location near the family home where you and/or your spouse will stay when you are not in the family home with the children. In order for nesting to work, it is best that the off-site location is near the family home. Parents should consider their finances and whether they can afford to rent a separate residence. Parents must also decide whether they will share an offsite location or if each will have his/her own space. Those who have family nearby have the option to use the home of family members as an off-site location. For others, the off-site location may be another part of the family home.
Divorce is very difficult even for mature and emotionally-healthy adults; therefore it goes without saying that it can be extremely difficult for children who do not have voice in the decision to divorce and do not have the life skills and maturity level to handle the significant changes that divorce inevitably brings. For this reason, in certain cases, a nesting co-parenting arrangement should be considered when determining an appropriate time-sharing arrangement for the children. While nesting does not work for everyone, under the right circumstances, nesting may be an option that addresses the children’s needs, the parents’ financial constraints and/or other interests.