The terms “bird nesting” is creeping into the family court, child custody, and parenting arrangement vernacular. We’re not entirely sure why.

Bird nesting is becoming an alternative post-divorce child custody arrangement in which the divorced parents of the children move into and out of the a primary residence while the children stay-put. That primary residence may or may not be the marital residence, assuming one or the other parents was able to maintain it after the divorce was settled.

We are, as yet, unaware of any situation first-hand where “bird nesting” has worked after the family unit has broken down. Dealing primarily with high-conflict cases, there are countless reasons why this arrangement couldn’t possibly work – namely, one or both of the parents are in near constant conflict with one another on a whole host of issues. While it might work in some seriously low-conflict cases, there are still many issues that would give parents pause.

Therefore it is our opinion, bird nesting is rarely anything other than inappropriate or unnecessary. The pitfalls of such an arrangement are many, even in the best of circumstances:

  • Parents who didn’t agree before the divorce, aren’t going to agree after it.  For instance;
  • Differences in housekeeping, decorating, arrangement of furniture, dishes, etc.
  • Privacy concerns.  How do you trust someone from whom you’ve gotten divorced from damaging or stealing belongings?  Rooting through paperwork and files?
  • “Whose stuff is this anyway?”  What if she doesn’t like the recliner but he does?  What if he doesn’t like that painting, but he does?
  • Who pays the rent and how much?
  • Where are the parents living when they’re not “nesting?”
  • Who buys the food?  What kind?  How much?
  • What if she likes the heat on 80-degrees and he likes it on 70-degrees?
  • Who does the house belong to?  Who gets what equity if a move is going to occur?
  • If child support orders consider things like rent, power, heat, light – should there be a downward modification?  Should there be any support at all?

Aside from the children not having to go from one home to another or some periodic basis, we can think of almost no positive reasons for such an arrangement.  Further, if there is even a minimum of conflict between the parents, it’s very likely to unfold in front of the children.  Worse, it can escalate into a situation where one parent will be making false allegations against the other for something!

Additionally, according to some recent social science research, children are not as negatively affected by divorce as some might think (LINK):

This is supported by three arguments: (1) compared to children of intact families, the long-term development of divorced children is comparatively normal; (2) children are not as negatively affected by post-divorce variables; and (3) children are not as affected by residential insecurity as previously thought.

As shared-parenting advocates, we understand that joint custody supports positive child development adjustments.

There are a wealth of additional reasons why the concept of “bird nesting” is a bad one.  Another significant one, in our minds, is that the children now how to deal with processing one parent and then the other “leaving them” in an ongoing arrangement.   This, at a time when they’re needing time to get used to the reality that their family has broken and will not be getting back together.  The “bird nesting” arrangement may offer children false hope that their parents are still together or may somehow be getting back together at some point.  The reality that they are not is something that children need to come to understand as early as possible after a divorce.  “Bird Nesting” as a custody arrangement may only serve to prolong that agony for the children.

We need to dispense with the notion that children moving between two households on a reasonable schedule is detrimental to their long-term well-being.  Many who argue against it like to portray the situation as extreme, as if the children need something along the lines of a U-Haul truck to cart belongings, toys, clothes, books, etc. from one house to another on a week-on/week-off basis.  That simply isn’t the case if the parents have all of the provisions necessary to care for the children when in their home.  It has been our experience and the experience of many with whom we’ve interacted that the most children should be left to bring from one home to another – is their school-bags.

“Bird Nesting” is another one of those ideas that has really wonderful intentions, but leaves just about everything to be desired in terms of execution.