This content was created for Families Magazine – Gold Coast October/November 2016 | Toddlers & Daycare Issue By Dan Bottrell
‘Bird-nesting’ is where separating parents agree to leave their children resident in the family home or ‘nest’, and that they will be the ones to move in and out of that nest. Here’s how you can make it work for your family.
In any separation, parents face countless decisions. For many, the ‘big ticket’ decisions will be around their children. Where will my children live, how much time will they spend with me and my ex-partner? In circumstances where there are highly co-operative parents some ‘out of the box’ parenting arrangements can work, and ‘Bird-nesting’ is one of them.
In bird nesting a ‘changeover’ occurs on an agreed day, when one parent ‘moves in’, and the other ships out. Some bird-nesters even share a family meal on changeover day, demonstrating to their children that they can still get along.
The benefits of this new kind of thinking is that the family home, which has been the children’s ‘home base’, will remain a stable environment which is known to them, securing their emotional well-being.
So how can you make bird-nesting work for you?
Commitment from both parents
It takes the agreement of you and your ex-partner to financially maintain the main residence. If it was the former family home, you may need to maintain joint ownership of it, or continue to rent it, until the children are older. And there will be the usual expenses that go with any household – rates, electricity and other outgoings. It is important to remember the bird-nest keeps you and your ex-partner in a financial ‘relationship’ for longer.
Be clear about the terms
You need to be clear about terms. The parenting arrangement will ideally be embodied in a parenting Order, or Parenting Plan. Likewise the arrangements about co-ownership and funding of the bird-nest will also need to be specified – how long the bird-nesting will go on; how and in what proportions the day to day expenses of the bird-nest will be paid; what impact the arrangement will have on child support obligations; and what will occur with the property when the arrangement is at end are all things to consider.
Set some ‘house rules
Agreed ‘house rules’ will be needed to establish boundaries. Who will ensure there is milk in the fridge, do the cleaning, the laundry, the lawn-mowing, the maintenance tasks, collect the post and pay the bills? These things can quickly become a source of irritation, and at worst, conflict, if there is no clarity around ‘who is doing what’.
Aim for separate lodgings
The bird-nesting arrangements with the best chance of success are those where each of you have your own separate residence – a place to retreat to, and call your ‘own’ when not caring for the children. This is really important if you are seeing other people. These are, however, the most expensive arrangements to maintain, and will not be possible in all cases.
Have an exit plan
To be a long-term solution you need to recognise that there may come a time when one of you is of the view that all or part of the bird-nest arrangement is not working, and have a plan to address that. Often that is in the form of attendance with a family therapist to work through the problem. Ultimately, ‘deal breakers’ may need to be specified in any orders or agreements, as a trigger to bring the bird-nest to an end if problems cannot be solved.
These logistics mean that bird-nesting will not be for everyone.You will need to be able to talk to your partner, and to consciously avoid conflict. Mutual respect, co-operation and an open mind to problem solving are essential components in a successful ‘bird nest’, but if done right, it can be a wonderful thing.
Dan Botrell describes himself as a lawyer who, having witnessed the often damaging results of the Court process, knows that non-litigation pathways are softer on children. He loves getting creative to achieve positive outcomes that minimise conflict and reduce the negative fallout of divorce and separation for families. In his 15 years as a family lawyer, he has helped thousands of couples and families, including some of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs. www.danbottrell.com.