Child Custody: Nesting Arrangements
Packing, unpacking, missing homework left at Dad’s or Mom’s—frustrated friends who don’t know where they are, and, being too far away to participate in fun weekend activities are issues children of divorced parents have to manage. Shared custody can be hard on children who are shuttled back and forth. It’s like being perpetually on a vacation where you left the one thing you need or want at home—your other home.
Some couples are using a new form of shared custody to make it easier on children. For some, it is a way to help children in the first year or two after their parents split. For others, it works so well that they continue using a nesting arrangement indefinitely.
What is shared custody?
When someone has sole custody of the children, the noncustodial parent isn’t required to have as good of a set-up for visitation as they need when there is shared custody. In shared custody, the children spend over one hundred and eight nights a year with each parent. This requires more stability in both homes.
Shared custody arrangements may result in neither parent receiving child support or much lower child support for the spouse who earns less than they would receive if they had sole custody. This combination of facts can make it difficult to meet the needs of the children and the adults when custody is shared.
Nesting Arrangements: What are they?
Bird-nesting, or nesting, arrangements appear to have begun with the ultra-wealthy but they can be an economical alternative for divorcing spouses who are able to work together.
In a nesting arrangement, instead of having two homes the children are shuffled back and forth between, there is a nest where the children live all the time. The parents live in the nest during their time with the children. There are creative options for where the parent lives when they aren’t in the nest.
Nesting arrangements aren’t for everyone. The marital home may not afford itself well to being a nest so it may still need to be sold and a more appropriate home purchased.
Within the nest, the parents may share the same bedroom and just not occupy it at the same time. Alternatively, they may each have their own room, which is generally easier. It reduces arguments about who changes the sheets and how clean the most private of spaces is left when the parents switch places.
Having two bedrooms does nothing at all for shared spaces. If the couple fought about the cleanliness of the home before they divorced, a nesting arrangement may not be a good idea. If the children are old enough to do some chores, they can come up with a division of labor that works.
- For example, children can be responsible for picking up after themselves, washing dishes, and washing and folding the towels. (They’re not likely to shrink a favorite wool sweater if they only wash towels.)
- The former spouses can work out a plan about who does other chores like vacuuming, weeding, and mowing the lawn. If they aren’t able to work together on this, a nesting arrangement isn’t a good idea.
Many divorces are fairly amicable. When both spouses are primarily focused on their children’s well-being and recognize that discord between their parents isn’t good for the children, nesting can work well.
Where do parents live when they aren’t in the nest?
Economics and occupations have a significant influence on the choices parents make about where they stay when they aren’t in the nest. Some of those solutions include:
Jobs where the person is away several nights a week can make nesting more economical. A firefighter, pilot, airline steward, long-haul trucker, or business person who travels often may be able to avoid the cost of a second home all together.
If the person’s parents live in the area, they may be able to stay in the parent’s home when they aren’t in the nest.
With a new lover
If the person has a new lover in their life, they may stay with that person when they aren’t in the nest.
Rent a room
It is often possible to rent a room from someone, with or without kitchen privileges, for a much lower price than it costs to set-up a second residence. This can be a temporary arrangement while saving money for a deposit on an apartment or a down payment on a home.
A second shared place
If economics are tight, a two bedroom apartment that both ex-spouses stay in when they aren’t in the nest is a possibility.
Each parent has their own second place
The economic advantages of nesting begin disappearing when both parents set up separate residences apart from the nest. The advantages the children experience from not being shuttled back-and-forth remain.
With a new spouse in their nest
If two people who have nesting arrangements with a former spouse marry, they could split their time between two nests. This can be particularly beneficial if they do not want the step-children spending a lot of time with one another. If the newly married couple has children who may be romantically attracted to one another, constantly supervising two teenagers who are only related by a recent marriage can be nearly impossible and add significant stress to the entire household.
Financial Arrangements for the Nest
Ownership of the nest varies from couple to couple. A negotiated agreement that both ex-spouses agree to is necessary. If they can’t work that out, they won’t be able to work out the other logistics.
A nesting arrangement provides the potential for economic advantages for both spouses. If one spouse owns the nest, he or she will benefit from the tax advantages and potentially, from building equity in the home.
The advantages increase substantially as the number of children increases. Each child will only need one bed, one bicycle, one set of toys, fewer clothes because they don’t have a wardrobe at two different homes, and even food use will be more efficient as leftovers aren’t abandoned as the child moves from one parent’s house to the others.
How Important Is It to Manage Finances Related to a Divorce?
Divorces disrupt a family’s income and assets, often with lifelong detrimental effects. The long-term financial consequences of divorce aren’t studied frequently, a 1995 study showed that the cumulative wealth accumulated by individuals up to the decade prior to normal retirement varies greatly depending on marital status—even when divorce occurred decades earlier.
The median income of a large percentage of families drops below the poverty line following divorce. Because there are detrimental long-term effects from this decrease and from divorce, especially when those divorces involve high levels of animosity, the couple’s shared long-term goal of raising children who will do well in life, should be a driving force in helping them find ways to provide a stable and safe environment for their children. Many couples possess the maturity required to co-parent with the best interests of the children as the highest priority.
It requires maturity to focus on the children, but many couples find a way.
If nesting will keep your children in a relatively safe neighborhood and not nesting would move one or both of their homes into an area with higher crime or schools that aren’t performing well, it is worth an exploratory conversation. If that conversation leads to an agreement, it is important that the key aspects of the agreement be put in writing to avoid losing the economic benefits in a later court battle.
Agree in Writing
The custody agreement, if one has been ordered, will drive how many nights each parent will spend in the nest. If a custody agreement hasn’t been ordered and the couple can agree, the nesting agreement should be put in the parenting plan submitted to the court.
The financial arrangements should be explicit. Contingencies and how they will be handled should be considered.
- For example, if one ex-spouse experiences a job loss, will the other spouse cover that ex-spouse’s expenses related to the nest until a new job is found?
- If yes, what are the terms of the money loaned for that purpose?
- How long will it be allowed to continue and what is the exit strategy if it continues longer than it will be allowed?
- Who does the actual shopping for consumables such as food and cleaning products?
- Who pays for consumables?
- Each person doing their own shopping and then reconciling the spending periodically, with supporting receipts, is an option.
- Will the utilities be pro-rata based on how many nights each parent spends in the house?
- Consider whether one person keeps the house warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer. Does this offset the expenses? Should it be factored into the calculation?
The arrangements are complex and should be reviewed by an attorney representing each ex-spouse before being signed.
Who shouldn’t consider a bird-nesting custody arrangement?
- Couples whose marital discord included conflict about how the house was maintained.
- Situations where domestic violence or child abuse occurred.
- When the divorce was caused by or created a relationship described as high-conflict.
- When one parent is unreliable.
When does bird-nesting work best?
Beyond a basic requirement for maturity, some scenarios work better than others for bird-nesting:
- When parents can work together and put the children’s interests first.
- When a child has specific needs, such as an athlete for whom it would be difficult to get to practices while adhering to a visitation schedule that moves him or her between homes.
- When they have a child who has special needs, especially if that involves costly equipment that makes moving the child difficult or impossible.
- When one or both parents have jobs involving frequent overnight travel or shifts where they sleep at work.
- When one or both parents are also involved in care-taking for a parent and want to spend the night with their parent when they aren’t with the children.
- When money is no object. When parents can afford to maintain three residences, the nest and the one each parent wants for themselves.
- When money is very tight and the parents have workable alternatives for a place to stay while they aren’t in the nest, such as with relatives or friends.
How long is nesting used?
Nesting is often a temporary arrangement for a year or two while the divorce is ongoing. Some couples find it works well and continue it indefinitely, until “it doesn’t work for us anymore.” Some parents choose to put their lives on hold while raising children from a failed marriage—for religious or other reasons, they choose not to enter into a new relationship while they are raising children. For individuals who have this attitude, bird-nesting is not as disruptive in the long-run as it is for someone who wants to move on with their life and begin dating or remarry. Couples can set-up bird-nesting arrangements on a temporary basis or with the understanding that they will continue it until it doesn’t work well for everyone.
The arrangement may be tied to a specific event such as:
- The youngest child entering school and freeing a stay-at-home parent to work full-time.
- A parent completing education or job training that will increase the income available to the family.
- The end of care-giving needs for a parent of one of the ex-spouses to whom the parent is providing care when they aren’t in the nest.
- The sale of the family home.
- The financial settlement when the divorce is finalized.
If you would like to consider a bird-nesting arrangement for shared custody of your children, talk with your Family Law Attorney about the specifics you should consider before agreeing to this arrangement.