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Divorcing with Children: Have you thought about Nesting?

Separating and divorcing parents spend much time worrying.  They worry about how and when they will separate; they worry if they will have enough money to maintain a semblance of their life before divorce; they worry about dividing assets and paying the bills; yet most of all they worry about their children.  Will their children be devastated by the separation?  Will their children’s lives be ruined?  Will their roles as parents change forever?   And, thus for the “sake “of the children, the idea of birds nesting was created.  Like the momma and papa birds, whose babies stay in the nest while they, as parents, fly in and out bringing sustenance to the children, came the creation of the children staying in one house.  The marital home becomes the “nest” where the children live.

Living Arrangements

In order to “nest,” the parents need to determine where each one will live when not staying in the home with the kids.  Finances and connections are the keys to the answer.  For those who have friends or family nearby, they may decide to stay with them when not with the children.  For those without a place to stay, money will determine their flexibility.  If there are sufficient funds, each parent may locate a separate residence—even a studio apartment will provide them with privacy when away from the marital home.  However, many couples are unable to finance three residences: the marital home and two separate accommodations.  Thus, for couples who do not have the connections and/or the funds to live separately, they will need to agree to rent a place where each one will live when not staying in the “children’s home.” Here, too, finances will determine if they can rent an apartment with separate bedrooms, providing each with a private place to store belongings or if they have to share a small apartment.

Parenting Schedule

Once the living arrangements are decided, the parents need to agree on how to schedule each one’s time with the children.  For couples with shared custody, a split-week schedule may work, or even alternate weeks.

In concept, nesting is all about the children.  The children are not asked to move between parental homes; the children keep their home, their community, and their schools without change.  The parents come in and out of the home to provide consistency and stability of oversight and care. The parents need to adjust and to change in order to maintain the parenting schedule. The children’s schedule remains unchanged.

In theory, nesting is a viable alternative for couples, particularly couples with shared custody.  Yet, before all separating couples jump on the nesting bandwagon, they need to be aware of some cautionary advice.

Important Considerations

  • Nesting requires a clear-cut and defined agreement on who does what in the home and, if sharing an apartment, they also need to agree on each one’s responsibilities in the apartment. If parents typically argue or even disagree about cleaning up, shopping, paying the bills, and the like, these tensions will be magnified. Couples need to discuss their differences honestly and work together to structure an agreement defining who does what and when.
  • Nesting requires a timeline, at the least for a reassessment of the living situation. The majority of couples are not able to nest for more than one year.  The loss of privacy, especially if they also share another residence, is hard for many individuals.  New relationships complicate the situation further.  As such it is a good idea to have an end date in mind and also an agreement on what will happen to the marital residence when nesting ends.  Forward-thinking couples also agree in advance on the division of parenting time after nesting.
  • Nesting may result in a kind of entitlement for the children, a sense that they will not have to move back and forth between parental homes. If this situation occurs, parents may find it very hard to change the schedule in order to incorporate the children’s movement between homes.  Being upfront at the onset may avoid conflict later.  Telling the children that the “nesting” arrangement is temporary in order to help them adjust to the separation may be helpful.

Structuring a nesting agreement at the onset requires collaboration and cooperation between the parents.  It is important to confront the issues that you think may arise as well as precautionary steps to avoid conflict.  The concept is sound; the execution needs to be as thoughtful as your interest in making post-divorce life less stressful for your children.  Mediation provides an excellent setting to work together with a skilled and knowledgeable guide to create a nesting arrangement that is forward-thinking and well planned.


Lynne Halem

Dr. Lynne C. Halem is the director at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution in Wellesley, MA. Dr. Halem has worked in the mediation field since 1982. She is on the Family Dispute Service Panel of the American Arbitration Association and a past board member of the Divorce Center,… MORE

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