By: Curtis Wiberg
A relatively new concept for divorcing couples with children is a concept known as “nesting” or a “bird’s nest” parenting plan arrangement.
What nesting entails is the parents sharing a residence to promote stability for the parties’ children. In a nesting arrangement, the parties split time at the marital residence while the children stay full time at that same marital residence. The appeal to such an arrangement is obvious — the children get to sleep in the same bed every night, stay in the same neighborhood, stay in the same school, and the only adjustment they have to make is that only one of the two parents is caring for them at night instead of both parents. In some nesting arrangements, the divorcing couple share the same “other” residence for those nights when they are not with the children, saving money. Also economical in such an arrangement is that the parents do not need to buy extra clothes, furniture, toys, etc. for each household.
While economically beneficial, and seemingly ideal for the children, the reality, in this attorney’s opinion, is that a nesting arrangement should be considered as a temporary solution while the divorce is ongoing, as kind of a trial period, and only continue as a longer term solution if the nesting arrangement is going smoothly. Divorces, obviously, are very emotionally upsetting events. Nesting arrangements require tremendous amounts of communication and cooperation, and if one parent, for example, leaves the marital residence a mess, or lets the kids stay up later playing video games or skipping their bath, the other parent might get resentful, and the rawness of the conflict leading to the divorce might not heal.
Also, in a divorce case, nesting is not ideal if either or both parties begin forming relationships with other partners. Likely, one spouse would object to the other spouse bringing a significant other into the household when it is that other spouse’s turn to nest (and this would be also problematic if the divorcing parents are sharing the same other residence). Sometimes it is difficult to imagine even wanting to get involved in a new romantic relationship when going through a divorce, which makes the prospect of a nesting arrangement seem more workable. But, many are ready to move on after time passes and nesting couple need to be prepared for when they, and/or the other spouse, start introducing significant others into the equation.
So, while it is important for divorcing parents to cooperate, communicate, and always keep the best interests of their children paramount, denying the realities of a failing marriage, jealousy, and the continuing entanglement that successful nesting requires, it may actually be better for the children to adjust to two separate households and allow the reality of a post-divorce household to become the new normal.
If parents are to enter into a nesting arrangement, it is essential that the parties agree to abide by specific rules of conduct to prevent the types of potential bases for conflict from occurring. These rules include that household chores such as laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, household cleaning and maintenance are done consistently at the nest by whichever parent is at the nest. Similarly, the children’s routines need to be consistent so that the children don’t come to prefer one parent’s time over the other at the nest. Expectations and ground rules about dating also need to be discussed and agreed upon. Routines with respect to taking the children to and from school, daycare, and extracurricular activities also need to be thoroughly discussed and agreed upon.
It may well be, too, that because of the dynamics of the failing marriage, that a nesting arrangement is just too problematic or emotionally painful to undertake successfully. Children are very perceptive, and if one or both parents are miserable, keeping the same house, clothes, school, neighborhood may be worse than moving on to a newer phase.
Though a temporary nesting parenting time arrangement might be beneficial with the right circumstances and right family, the reality is that in most situations, it’s not. Additionally, there are also contrary psychological theories suggesting that if physical separation and two households is ultimately going to be the norm, which it is, then nesting is just delaying the children’s need to face the realities of divorce. If a nesting arrangement is reached, it is advisable to make sure a specific, realistic duration is set. It is also advisable to make sure the nesting agreement has an easy exit plan, should things just not be working.