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Would “Bird-Nesting” Work for Our Family After the Divorce?

“Nesting” for Child Custody: Pros and Cons

When New Jersey parents decide to divorce, they may be most concerned with how their decision will affect their children. Kids’ lives can easily be disrupted by their parents’ divorce, especially when the family home is sold and they must go back and forth between their parents for custody time. As a result, a growing number of parents are considering “nesting” or “bird-nesting” child custody arrangements, when the children stay in the marital home while the parents move in and out for their parenting time.

Is “Bird-nesting” Right for Your Family?

There are many reasons why parents may pursue nesting as a child custody arrangement. The nest can be temporary or permanent, and there are many factors that can contribute to how the decision is made. A couple’s financial circumstances, for example, may play a significant role in whether bird-nesting works for the long-term as may each parent’s job prospects and future plans.

However, more people are considering nesting, even if as a transitional phase or temporary period, in order to ease the burden of divorce for the children. A New Jersey divorce lawyer may provide you with advice about whether nesting may be a good custody option to consider.

When parents divorce and share joint physical custody in a traditional way, the kids need to move back and forth between the homes, often once a week or more. They must bring their possessions, books, clothes and toiletries with them, carry what they need for school or sports, and make sure to have their toys, games, electronics and other items. If the kids do not constantly move these items, the parents must buy two sets of these items. Kids may need to frequently go back to pick up forgotten items, leading to additional conflict between the parents.

Nesting is designed to reduce the stress of divorce on the children. Rather than the kids packing up and moving each week, the parents do so. They may each maintain their own apartment, stay with friends or family, or share a single rented apartment or other smaller space that they occupy in rotation with the family home. The kids remain in the same place, reducing their stress and providing them with greater consistency.

Nesting is often designed to maximize the sense of security that children feel during the divorce process. They can see and experience that their home life is not dramatically different and that their interests are being put first by both parents. They keep their same address, school schedule and plans, and instead, the parents make their schedules around the kids. This is why nesting is often called a child-centered custody arrangement.

However, bird-nesting may also be a temporary option for several years or another specified period of time negotiated by your divorce attorney as part of the marital settlement. It may give children time to adjust while preparing them for a future where other changes gradually move forward.

Types of Nesting Arrangements

Bird-nesting may work differently for every family that considers it. During a nesting divorce, the children remain in the family home. This does not necessarily change the basic principles of a child custody settlement; that is, parents who choose nesting will likely share fully joint legal and physical custody. Here, the children will remain in the family home while the parenting plan specifies that the parents share their custody time by moving out themselves, rather than moving the children between two homes.

In many cases, parents may start a nesting-style arrangement even before the divorce is finalized or while the family home is up for sale. They may make an agreement as part of their divorce settlement through their family lawyers to determine the future disposition of the property even if they agree not to sell the home until a specified period of time has passed. Regardless of the type of nesting arrangement you choose, a New Jersey divorce lawyer may advise you of the importance of assuring that the financial aspects of this choice are negotiated and agreed upon in advance.

The parents may rent a single smaller space and rotate in and out of it along with the family home. They may each get their own place if they have the funds to do so. In other cases, the parents may stay with friends or family, at least on a temporary basis. The type of living arrangement available to the parents may affect how well nesting works for the couple.

If the parents need to sell the family home and distribute the proceeds in order to afford another living space, they may find staying with family and friends untenable on a long-term basis. Similarly, when parents must share a small apartment, even if they never spend time in it together, the possibility for conflict and emotional entanglement expands significantly. Couples, such as some of the well-known celebrities that have opted for nesting, with plenty of financial resources to support the parents’ alternate living spaces may find nesting an easier and more well-supported long-term option.

Benefits of Nesting Custody

Nesting can have significant benefits for the children, especially in the immediate post-divorce period. Some of the benefits of nesting that children experience after divorce include:

  • Greater emotional and practical stability
  • Easier coordination of social and extracurricular activities
  • A sense of reassurance that their lives will not be dramatically upended
  • Continuing a similar family lifestyle without disruption

Many children may be worried about where they will live after their parents’ divorce, and bird-nesting can ease those concerns. A family law attorney may provide advice on the legal and financial aspects of choosing to pursue nesting following a divorce, whether permanently or as a transitional phase.

Potential Cons of a Nesting Agreement

A New Jersey family lawyer may also provide significant warnings about moving forward with bird-nesting, particularly as a long-term or permanent arrangement. The situation requires intense levels of communication and continued intimacy and thus may be a poor choice for parents with higher levels of conflict or a tendency to argue.

When matters like division of household labor were a significant contributing factor to the divorce, this may only be exacerbated with a nesting-based custody agreement. Now, there is no longer a marriage binding the two parents together, but the conflicts over chores, use of resources and payment of bills can remain intact. It may also be far more difficult for parents to pursue new relationships or a dating life, especially if they share the second apartment as well. If privacy violations were part of the relationship problems, this may get even worse when neither parent feels they have any space that truly belongs to them.

Some of the most common downsides associated with bird-nesting include:

  • Increased communication with a former partner can feel like prolonging the relationship
  • Financial issues with affording separate homes and the marital home
  • Difficulty calculating child support because of the shared living space
  • Lack of privacy or independent space
  • Ongoing conflicts over household management, bills and expenses
  • Lack of a clear agreement to determine responsibilities for costs and ownership of the property
  • Increased arguments between the parents related to the above factors

Bird-nesting can be a great custody choice for many New Jersey families, at least on a temporary basis. Your family law attorney may provide specific advice about how the financial and legal sides of the divorce may be complicated by this type of custody agreement.

Contact a New Jersey Divorce Attorney

Nesting may work best for parents with the financial resources to make it accessible and affordable as well as those with a strong, positive and friendly relationship. On a more short-term basis, it may provide a transitional option to reassure the children of their safety and security despite a divorce.

If you are considering bird-nesting, an attorney may help you to determine how to pursue this route. Contact us at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or using our convenient online form to request a consultation at our Watchung or Red Bank, New Jersey, office.

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