Perhaps you have heard of parents “Nesting” (sometimes called “Birds-nesting”) while separated or divorcing. Nesting refers to a transitional arrangement where parents continue to share the family home and take turns being “on duty” with their children. The children stay in the home full time, which gives them more time to adapt to the other changes in the family. The parents may live in separate areas within the home or, more commonly, in another location when they are “off-duty.” Some parents share the off-site residence, while others find separate living quarters, or stay with friends or family. The goal is usually to provide a stable home for the children while the marital status is in flux. These parents work out agreements about communication, schedules and finances. Sharing the nest is usually temporary, until further along in the divorce process when decisions about the home and the timeshare schedule are made. Parents may nest for months or even several years. Some parents agree to nest until a milestone is reached, such as the children’s graduation from high school.
Nesting works well for parents who are able to communicate respectfully with each other, and who can respectfully manage leaving the family home in reasonable condition when turning over the duties to the other parent. Studies show that children suffer when their parents are in conflict. Nesting can be a good choice for parents who have minimal conflict. These parents are willing to put their children’s welfare ahead of their own. It can be hard to move in and out of the family home, and these parents experience first-hand what their children may experience when they live under two roofs.
Advantages: Nesting provides some stability for the children while they adjust to their parents’ separation and divorce. Their routines may not change much. The children have quality time with each parent. Some nesting parents call themselves “apartners” as they live apart while they partner as parents. Nesting gives you both time to sort out the other divorce-related issues before making big decisions and changes about housing. If nesting is during a trial separation, and the parents are both actively working on the marriage, some parents may be able to reconcile.
Disadvantages: Most adults find it disruptive to move in and out of the family home, and the alternate location may be less than ideal. It may be costly to support the family home as well as two other living quarters. Nesting is not advisable in high conflict relationships, or where there are coercive control issues. An explicit agreement regarding schedules with the children, finances, and communication is essential. Nesting becomes problematic when either parent develops a new serious, long term relationship. Nesting is not advisable unless both parents trust each other.
Steps to Successful Nesting
- Decide whether both parents will remain in the area or city. Nesting works when both parents are available for their “on duty” parenting time.
- Think through the value of nesting for the children and ask yourself if you can set aside your own comfort and prioritize the comfort of your children. Nesting works best when both parents remain actively involved with their children.
- Consider your finances and whether you can afford to support alternate living locations. Increasing financial stress is not helpful to you or the children. You may need to reduce your standard of living if you are paying rent or mortgages in two or three locations.
- Decide whether you and your spouse can share the “off-site” location, or whether you will each need your own space.
- Work together with the other parent to create a consistent and stable home for the children. Find ways to communicate in a respectful manner about matters relating to the children, the home, and the finances. Use communication tools, such as an online family calendar, to make the transitions easier. Communicate regularly about how the children are doing.
- Act rationally, not emotionally.
- Develop a timeshare schedule so that each family member always knows which parent is “on duty.” Make sure the schedule will work for you, and if it doesn’t work well, review and revise it. Most nesting parents transition in and out of the house once or twice a week, but you and your partner parent need to create a realistic and workable schedule.
- Make sure your children understand what you are doing. You may explain that this doesn’t necessarily mean you will reconcile with their other parent. Let them know that the nesting may be temporary, and that you will let them know as decisions are made regarding future living arrangements.
- Develop a written agreement about communication, house rules, household responsibilities, who pays the bills, and how holidays and birthdays will be handled. Consider setting up a joint “family” bank account to support the home and the children. You may choose to consult with a financial specialist who will help you set up a realistic budget.
- Get help from a family therapist if necessary. The family therapist can help you create a parenting plan that works for your family’s unique needs.
- See a financial professional to help you with budgeting for nesting if you want assurance it will work financially for your family.
--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and psychologist in Marin County. http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Buscho