I must admit, when asked to submit an article on “bird nesting” I had no idea what that even was. So off to google I went to discover the “Bird nest custody” is a term adopted by Americans to describe a family dynamic embraced by separated parents which allows for the family home to be maintained for the benefit of the children, while mum and dad alternate their time in the “nest”.
Each family is unique and upon separation, parents are entitled to make whatever arrangements they can agree upon and consider appropriate to meet the needs of their children. Child focussed and parent designed solutions are likely to produce the best outcomes for families and mediation and similar alternate, dispute resolution options are available to assist separated parents to work through the myriad of issues that often arise in co-parenting after separation.
So is “Bird nesting” a viable option that is likely to become widely embraced?
Long term studies of children in shared parenting arrangements where children have moved between their parents homes on a regular basis reportedly felt like they had no home, rather than two homes. To combat that, parents are generally encouraged to ensure that they set up their residences with everything that their children need so that the toys, clothing, personal items etc moving between households is minimalised. This still does not eliminate the inconvenience of regularly packing your things and having to move your base.
In a “bird nest” arrangements, it is the parents that have the experience and inconvenience of having to pack up and move on a regular basis. As the adults, they are perhaps better equipped to make the adjustment and arguably have created the situation. The motivation for adopting this arrangement is to shelter the children from the effects of a divorce and does so by maintaining much of the status quo in children’s lives.
Possible short term solution
On that basis, it is a great option during the adjustment process when everyone is in the transition period or perhaps the parents are “trialling” separation and are not yet ready to consider financial separation. Even as a short term option, it will be necessary to establish some clear expectations and “rules of the nest”. If there were issues with money, allocation of household chores, parenting styles etc when you were together, they are going to be exacerbated by separation. No parent is going to want to start their time in the “nest” having to restock the pantry, clean the house and do the washing or beg for money so these things need to be clearly agreed upon in advance to make it work.
Despite the child focussed intention of this parenting arrangement, it does not appear to be sustainable in the long term. One of the biggest impediments for most families will be cost. Unless mum and dad are going to “couch surf” with family or friends, there is the potential cost of maintaining up to three residences. Privacy is going to be an issue and it’s probably not an arrangement that future partners are going to be comfortable with, despite the fact that you are not in the “nest” at the same time as your former partner.
If you find yourself in the dilemma of sorting out parenting arrangements, this is definitely one for consideration if you are amicable but it is not something a Court would order. Parents in conflict aren’t going to successfully transition in and out of the home and may not even be suitable candidates for equal, shared parental time.
Kids come first
When trying to do the best for your children, just remember, the most harmful factor is not the breakdown of the family unit but any ongoing conflict and feelings of divided loyalties. The best you can do is get child focussed in terms of separating your co-parenting relationship and responsibilities from that of your failed marriage. Always be courteous and respectful to and of your partner in the presence of the children. Encourage their relationship with the other parent – your experience is not theirs and they are entitled to their own relationship without being tainted by your hurt and emotion. If you can remain amicable and even redefine your parental relationship to be friends – even better – this will allow you to come together for important events so that neither parent, nor child needs to miss out.
Contribution by Kym Briese from Briese Lawyers