Ex-Etiquette Column

Articles on dealing with the "ex" in your life--anyone's ex--yours, their's, even "ex"tended family.

Bird’s Nest Custody (Nesting)

Q. My husband and I are currently going through divorce proceedings and I’m looking for alternative parenting plans. This bird’s nest custody arrangement, when the kids stay in the house and the parents move in and out sounds good. Where can I get more information?

A. There is not much information out there about Birds Nest Custody also known as “nesting.” In my travels over the years I have worked with fewer than ten families that have attempted it. Each family had special issues that allowed them to try it, but only for a while. It was not a permanent solution for any of the couples with which I worked.

Bird’s Nest Custody is a form of joint custody, but with a twist. In Bird’s Nest Custody, the kids stay in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out. It works for a select group of people—those who can stay civil while co-parenting and that can go with the flow. There is constant interaction, so conflict must be kept to a minimum. It may also be a little more costly than a conventional custody agreement. When a couple divorces, it is customary that the parents each have a home and the children reside with either one of the parents or go back and forth between the parents two homes. With Bird’s nest custody, the kids stay put so the parents need somewhere to go on their down time. Most divorced parents do not want to share the downtime home, so that means Mom needs a place and Dad needs a place. That means the family must maintain three homes. There are exceptions. I have worked with a Mom who left the children in the family home and rented an apartment. Her ex went to work very early in the morning, so she would wake her girls up, get them ready for school, take them to school, and then return to her apartment. She would then pick them up from school and take them back to her apartment until their father came home from work. Her reasoning was that this was the least disruptive for the children.

Here’s another example. “I didn’t know what else to do,” said Sophia Lopez. She explained that her guilt was so profound after her six-year marriage ended because of her affair with a co-worker, that she proposed bird’s nest custody as a solution. She was extremely remorseful about the pain she had caused her family and she did not want to disrupt her children any further. So, after months of consideration, Sophia proposed that she live in the home that her mother had left her when she passed the year before. Sophia was vice president of marketing for a large corporation, traveled often, and brought home a six-figure salary. Since she made more money than her husband, Gerald, and inherited a home close by, she offered to buy her husband a condominium as part of their divorce settlement. The children would stay in their original home with one of the parents for a month at a time. Gerald would retire to his condo on his off months, and Sofia would live in the home she inherited.

“I found out about Sophia’s affair with a co-worker completely by accident, said Gerald. “It would be an understatement to say I wasn’t happy with her, but I was even more upset by how she disrupted our children’s lives. By the time we went to court, I would have agreed to just about anything to minimize their pain. Not moving them from the home they knew all their lives seemed like a good solution.”

And it was for two years, until Gerald became serious with another woman who was not interested in moving back and forth every other month. This was true for every couple I have ever spoken to that has attempted bird’s nest custody. Once someone new entered the picture, it prompted the couple to seek out a more conventional parenting plan.

Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, and Ex-Etiquette for Holidays. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.

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