Birdnesting in Joint Custody: Progress in Divorce Co-Parenting
La Jolla, California – Parents are taking heed of psychological reports which show the sheer mental difficulty children must endure when going between two homes for parenting time with each parent in joint custody. Some have adopted an arrangement dubbed birdnesting. This describes a plan in which the children stay put in their familiar home–the nest–while each parent comes in for the duration of their allotted parenting time. The other parent goes to stay at a different residence until it is their turn with the children once more.
The hope is that a sense of normalcy is preserved for the kids. They are surrounded by all their own belongings and mementos of both their parents. A sense of security which results in knowing that their parents are willing to cooperate due to their love for the kids is ultimately what divorcing couples hope will help the children grieve through this process, and emerge with a healthy relationship to both mom and dad.
There is yet to be a good survey detailing this phenomenon, but a quick read-through of people’s anecdotes in online publications shows that there are several configurations of this kind of plan. In one such arrangement, the family home is preserved for parenting time with the kids, while the parents jointly purchase an apartment to each stay at while the other one is parenting. If there is a guesthouse on the marital property, this works well as the ‘other’ living space for the non-parenting spouse.
Of course, this means that both parents are bombarded by constant reminders of their ex with their things being present at both the family home and the other refuge. Unless the pair is laid back and amicable, this could backfire. Some parents with the means to do so simply lease their own studio apartment as the refuge to go to when not parenting, but this is completely inaccessible to most people.
Another possibility is the kids stay in the family home, while both parents stay with their respective friends or family. This is the more affordable option, but it also is not one most people can choose as their long term plan if you want to keep a decent relationship with the people hosting you in their home. It is merely a temporary solution.
Limitations of Birdnesting
As one can see, this co-parenting strategy, while helping to minimize the disruption of the children’s lives, is very limiting. First, while many people have been doing it for years, the finance side of it can be difficult to sustain long-term. Renting another apartment or separate apartments as well as keeping up on the original mortgage is something few people can do for long.
Secondly, what happens when either mom or dad begin a new serious relationship that moves towards marriage? Some people continue to rotate into the marital home while moving in to their new partner’s residence the rest of the time. This certainly is a financial advantage. But what about the difficulty of continuing this arrangement when the new couple gets married and has kids of their own? Eventually, a parenting plan with more clearly defined boundaries will be necessary.
A survey of the comments on one blog’s (“This Life in Progress”) candid retelling of birdnesting through divorce shows that for many people–it has turned out to be a temporary arrangement that has helped their kids adjust to the new situation with confidence. It also seems to have fostered a more collaborative co-parenting relationship between two ex-spouses. Blog author Kate Chapman writes that staying in this arrangement for several years not only showed the parents and the kids that they really could find solutions towards a child-centered co-parenting, but it prepared them for the eventual separation that would occur when the father moved to his own home. Ms. Chapman helped pack the kids’ rooms and even came to decorate their new rooms in his home. “The time spent bird-nesting made moving day easier on all of us; we’d had time to move through the rawest part of our grief and were used to operating in our new family dynamic,” she concludes.
Just like everything in divorce, this arrangement has many complications along with the benefits. Here is a short overview:
- Cost Pros and Cons: Maintaining the marital home and a new residence is expensive. However, if both parents share the second lease, it is slightly less prohibitive. However, parents do not have to buy two sets of everything for the kids for each house like they would if the children were going back and forth between two homes.
- The Benefit of Consistency: While a divorce is always unsettling for the kids, at least they can process it in a reassuring environment of the home they know and love. Also, kids continue to live by house rules, which are enforced by both parents (though at different times), instead of having different homes and expectations. Inconsistencies and changes in rules can lead to discipline problems and contribute to a feeling of insecurity in children.
- For most people doing this, according to anecdotal evidence, birdnesting is a temporary arrangement that helps the kids of divorce adjust to the new normal of their parents splitting. A more traditional co-parenting approach will likely be necessary once the life of either parent progresses beyond this solution. Even if you plan to birdnest for some time and include that in your legal parenting plan with your family attorney, it would be wise to include verbiage as to how things are to be handled with the parenting time and the house if (or when) the arrangement runs its course. Ensure you contract a professional to draft this for you.
All in all, birdnesting is an interesting option for co-parenting. If you’re in the San Diego, Carlsbad, or La Jolla areas and would like some assistance in drafting a flexible parenting agreement, contact Griffith, Young & Lass at 1(858)367 3972.
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