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  • Laura McGee, J.D. Divorce Mediator

Nesting or “Bird Nesting:” Can it be the Co-Parenting Solution to Today’s High Mortgages and Rents?

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

bird nesting divorce

Divorce can be an emotionally and financially challenging time, and it is particularly challenging if you are trying to balance your children’s needs for stability with your needs for separation from your spouse or co-parent without going into debt to reorganize your family.

Since COVID, and now with the housing crisis, birdnesting is a trend that has grown in awareness and thus popularity. When parents were forced to remain in the shared home because of COVID, few families had the choice to choose any other co-parenting mode other than nesting, and then, as some families discovered its value, word began to spread, and even families not forced to nest began to explore nesting as an option.

Because of the exceptionally high cost of renting or buying a new home at these sky-high interest rates and because most parents who own a home currently have exceptionally low-interest mortgage rates, the trend to birdnest continues to grow. Many divorcing or separating parents seek an alternative approach to the traditional two-home co-parenting plan. They may have never considered nesting an option because it was little known or used before COVID, and it is certainly not an option offered by the court system. Parents who want a plan that prioritizes stability for their children, which is financially less burdensome for the family and allows for creative and individualized parent planning, are opting for birdnesting. Birdnesting can provide co-parents with both boundaries and separation under one roof.

What is “Bird Nesting” or Nesting in Divorce and Separation?

Bird nesting, also referred to as nesting, is a co-parenting arrangement where divorcing or separating parents maintain a single, shared family home where their parenting time takes place. It can take many forms: parents may take turns leaving the family home for a second, much less expensive but shared residence; one or both parents may have a room with family or friends they can retreat to; and some families choose to share the family home but negotiate their lead and off-duty parenting time. Birdnesting requires a customized approach to meet the specific needs of your divorcing or separating family. Co-parents who successfully nest typically use the support of a skilled co-parenting mediator to help them set clear boundaries around lead parenting time and when each parent will make themselves scarce as well as when the parents will still spend time as a family, such as Sunday evening meals together.

Creative nesting parent plans are not a result you can expect from a litigated divorce. They are mediated and customized agreements that most typically are intended to last for an agreed-upon period of time. The primary goal is to provide stability for children by allowing them to stay in the same home and school district. While nesting, the parents gain time to work on negotiating the rest of the financial aspect of their divorce and time to prepare for the increased costs associated with co-parenting in a two-home family. Sometimes there are obvious time markers for the sunset of the bird nesting plan, like the youngest child starting or graduating high school. Sometimes there is a financial horizon, such as a stay-at-home parent working on re-careering, and they can see the additional income as the financial relief they need to move on to a two-household co-parenting plan.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of bird nesting and how and why nesting may work for your family, even if it is just a transitional co-parenting phase that helps pave a pathway to a more cooperative two-household parenting plan when the time is right for your family.

Pros of Nesting or "Bird Nesting" in divorce or separation:

1. Stability for Children:

One of the most significant advantages of nesting is that it provides stability for children during a time of change, uncertainty, and often significant emotional upheaval. Instead of uprooting the children from their familiar home, school, friends, and neighborhood, nesting allows them to continue living in the same environment while maintaining their routines and social connections as their parents re-organize from parents to co-parents. This stability can positively support their emotional well-being and help them adjust to the more gradual pace of family change. It can support a more seamless adjustment to their parent’s choice to divorce or separate.

2. Bonding Opportunity

When the Children are Babies: I have worked with many families who are divorcing or separating with very young children, some as young as newborns. For these families, bird nesting offers an opportunity for both parents to fully bond with the child and ensure secure attachments have been established with each parent before re-organizing the family into a two-household family. Sometimes the mother is still breastfeeding, and they want the baby’s nursing to continue, and nesting allows for time to transition and support the needs of both mother and child to wean gradually.

3. Cost-Effective:

Bird nesting can be a more financially viable option for divorcing or separating parents, especially in this current economic climate. With soaring rental and refinancing or new home mortgage costs, it may not be feasible for both parents to maintain separate households without significant financial strain. By sharing the family home for at least a prescribed period of time, parents can save money on rent, utilities, and other expenses, allowing them to allocate their resources toward the preparation for the transition to a two-home family.

4. Transition Period:

Nesting can serve as a transitional phase for parents who need time to adjust to what life after divorce will be like, and make important decisions regarding their future. During this period, parents can focus on finalizing their divorce agreements and explore re-careering, upping their parenting skills if they have been the less involved day-to-day parent, and planning for their separate households without the pressure to make an immediate and possibly regrettable choice about where and when to move out of the family home.

5. Cooperation and Communication:

Nesting requires a high level of cooperation and communication between parents. By sharing a common living space, parents are compelled to work together, coordinate schedules, make joint decisions about household responsibilities and child-related matters, household expenditures, and negotiate boundaries about no new partners in the family space. The process of negotiating your nesting plan with the professional assistance of a skilled co-parenting mediator can foster better communication and more cooperative co-parenting for your future. Many co-parents gain tremendous respect, empathy, and understanding of the role the other parent has played as they redistribute parenting and income-earning responsibilities.

Cons of Nesting or "Bird Nesting":

1. Limited Privacy:

Sharing a family home with your ex-spouse or co-parent means sacrificing some degree of privacy. While you may have your own space within the home or at an alternative space or shared residence, there will still be times when you are in close proximity to each other. This lack of privacy can be challenging, especially if there are unresolved tensions or conflicts between the parents. It requires a certain level of emotional maturity and the ability to establish and abide by clear boundaries to navigate bird nesting without doing more harm to your children’s emotional well-being. Couples who do not build a strong support system, such as a skilled co-parenting therapist and divorce mediator who can guide the nesting plan details, will often fail at nesting and blame the failure on each other.

2. Potential Emotional Challenges:

Nesting can prolong or even amplify the emotional challenges parents grapple with as they divorce. It may prolong the grieving process associated with divorce or separation, as it can be a constant reminder that the family structure is being reorganized, and one of you may not be as ready as the other for the change. Seeing your soon-to-be former spouse regularly and sharing a living space may evoke mixed emotions. You risk oversharing with your children or not respecting where you are in your grieving process, and recovery is not necessarily where your partner or spouse is in his or her process. Parents need to prioritize self-care, seek support from professionals, and avoid wearing out friends and family with their divorce stories. They need to be highly aware of their responsibility as parents to prioritize the emotional security and attachment bonds children rely on to thrive in life and particularly through divorce. Nesting will not work if even one parent is acting out, shaming and blaming their co-parent, or attempting to micro-manage the other, particularly if the children are witnessing and learning to model this unhealthy behavior.

3. Complexity of Arrangements:

Nesting requires careful planning, coordination, and clear communication. Setting up a nesting arrangement involves creating a detailed schedule for when each parent will occupy the family home, defining responsibilities and boundaries, and ensuring smooth transitions between parents' living arrangements. This level of cooperation may be more challenging than you as a couple can manage. Conflict will inevitably arise when established expectations are not being met. There may be a hefty price for the peace you are seeking. Nesting is not for every family; it requires a joint commitment.

4. Temporary Solution:

Nesting is typically seen as a temporary solution rather than a long-term co-parenting arrangement. While it can provide stability and financial relief during the initial separation phase, parents often view nesting as a stepping stone towards establishing a two-household family. When one parent wants it to be their long-term co-parenting arrangement, your conflict over how long this should last and what action steps need to be in place so you can transition to a two-household family can also cause birdnesting to fail. It usually works best when you work with a co-parenting specialist or highly skilled co-parenting mediator to set a timeline for its expiration.

In conclusion, nesting or "bird nesting" can be a valuable transitional co-parenting solution, particularly when high mortgage or rental rates make maintaining separate households financially challenging. It offers stability for children, allows parents time to negotiate the financial aspects of divorce or separation, and promotes cooperation and communication between parents in ways that can strengthen their empathy and co-parenting skills. That said, nesting is not for every couple. It has its drawbacks, such as limited privacy, potential emotional strain, and logistical challenges, and its temporary nature may forestall your healing. It's essential for parents to carefully consider their unique circumstances and consult with a divorce mediator with significant training and experience helping parents negotiate a nesting plan as unique as their circumstances and who can draft your nesting plan into an easy-to-follow co-parenting plan that is fully enforceable and flexible enough to help you transition to the next stage of your co-parenting.

Laura McGee is an experienced divorce mediator and a certified co-parenting specialist with extensive training, experience, and knowledge; she works with divorcing parents throughout California and has a physical office in the Village of Carlsbad. Laura offers couples a complimentary Discovery Session. Book online now to learn more about building your unique nesting plan with Laura McGee.

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