When parents decide to separate, one of the biggest challenges they face is figuring out living arrangements for themselves and their children. This can be especially tough in the early days if the couple is in a trial separation and not ready to set up two permanent homes. For families going through a separation, many choose a style of living and parenting called ‘bird-nesting’.
What is bird-nesting in separation?
Bird-nesting, also known as “nesting” or “bird’s nest custody,” is an arrangement where children stay in the family home, and the separated parents move in and out on a rotating basis. It’s often used in early separation and can be an interim arrangement while you make formal living and shared parenting arrangements.
When not at home, parents may choose to stay with friends or family, in a hotel, house-sit, rent a room in a share house, or split the cost of a small apartment big enough for one person at a time.
How does nesting help children adjust to separation?
Bird-nesting aims to keep children’s lives as undisrupted as possible by having them stay in their family home. This can be really helpful because it allows children to maintain a sense of stability and continuity. They get to stay in their own rooms, go to the same schools, and have their own routines. Staying in the comfort of their own home with their familiar surroundings can help support children as they adjust to the “new normal” of separated parents.
Clinical psychologist Tarnya Davis explains, “it’s important that children continue to have a relationship with both parents.” Nesting may be one way to ensure this.
However, nesting may be confusing for children if it continues indefinitely. They may feel they are in a situation of limbo. They may ask whose house is it, or how final is the separation if you don’t have separate homes? It’s important that you communicate clearly with your children on your expectations and intentions for the nesting arrangement.
Is bird-nesting right for my family?
So, is bird-nesting right for you? Here are a few things to consider:
- Can you and your ex communicate effectively and co-parent well? Bird-nesting requires a lot of cooperation and communication between the parents. If you and your ex have a lot of conflict or struggle to see eye to eye, this arrangement may not be the best choice.
- Are you comfortable with the idea of sharing a space with your ex? Bird-nesting can be emotionally challenging, especially if you are not on good terms. Make sure you are comfortable with the idea of seeing each other regularly and sharing the same space.
- Can you afford it? Bird-nesting can become expensive, especially if you each book hotels or other short-stay accommodation each week. Make sure you have a clear budget before deciding on this option, and if it looks like a longer-term arrangement, consider renting a shared apartment.
- Are you willing to be flexible? Bird-nesting requires a lot of flexibility, as you will need to be able to adjust your schedule and routines to accommodate the other parent’s time in the house. Make sure you are willing to make sacrifices and be flexible.
There are a few ways you can set yourselves up for nesting success.
- Communicate your expectations, preferences and boundaries: Make sure you share what you expect from your ex for nesting to be a viable option for your family, and be respectful of their needs too.
- Decide on some ground rules for your family interactions: Some separated parents will continue to have dinner together once per week in the family home, and others will pass by each other in the hallway when the other comes home. Be sure you both feel comfortable with your level of contact.
- Create a schedule: Having a schedule can help ensure that everything runs smoothly and that everyone knows what to expect. This could include a schedule for each parent’s time in the house and a schedule for activities and chores.
- Involve your children: If it’s age-appropriate, make sure to involve your children in the decision-making process and consider their needs and preferences. It’s important to make sure they are comfortable with the arrangement and that it is not causing them undue stress.
- Have a backup plan: It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan in case something unexpected arises. For example, if one parent gets sick and can’t stay in the house, you’ll need to have a plan in place for how to handle the situation.
- Seek support: Bird-nesting can be emotionally challenging, so it’s important to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if you need it.
When is bird-nesting not appropriate?
Generally, nesting is more appropriate where the separation is amicable and should always be considered on a case-by-case basis. Nesting is not appropriate in some circumstances, particularly where there is any family violence.
Ultimately, bird-nesting is not for everyone. It requires a lot of cooperation and communication and can be emotionally and financially challenging. But for some separated couples, it can be a great way to co-parent their children and maintain a sense of stability for the family. Weigh the pros and cons and make sure nesting is the right choice for your family.
The Separation Guide aims to make separation and divorce simpler, more manageable and less stressful. To find out more about how one of our Network Members could support your separation, take our free 3-minute Q&A.
The information in our resources is general only. Consider getting in touch with a professional adviser if you need support with your legal, financial or wellbeing needs.