Divorce, the Kids, & the House: What on Earth is “Bird Nesting?”

img_3672“Wait, we do what?”

It can sound pretty baffling at first.

Here’s the scoop.  The kids stay in the family home — the “nest,” get it?  The idea is that instead of children having to go back and forth between their parents, the parents are the ones doing the moving around.  A parent moves into the home for parenting time with the kids, and then out to his or her part-time place when it’s the other parent’s parenting time.

What to do with the house is often a major concern during divorce.  Personal concerns range from the financial  (“Can one of us afford to maintain the house post-divorce?”  “If we decide to list it, will it sell and when?” What if I can’t qualify for a mortgage on my own?), to the legal (“Is my spouse entitled to any of the value of the home if I owned it before the marriage?”  “What would a court decide?”) to the emotional (“But what about the fact that this was my parents’ house?”).

For many divorcing spouses who have children, though, the main concern is how decisions involving the house impact the children.  Often, there is a strong desire to keep the children in the family home to allow them a smoother transition to life as a divorced family.  Although nesting can initially sound untraditional, the hope is that children experience much less disruption in their lives and routines than they would if they had to shuttle between two homes and adapt to completely new living arrangements.

But as a practical matter, how does bird nesting work?

People get quite creative when it comes to bird nesting.  Here are some approaches:

  • Three homes: In the most well-known nesting set-up, the family home is maintained, and both parents have separate residences outside of the family home. This gives parents their own separate space and makes transitions smooth.  That said, this is essentially the maintenance of three homes, and for many families is not a practical solution.
  • Two homes: For some parents, maintaining two separate residences might be an option. The family home remains the main home for the children, and then there is a second residence that the parents stay in when it’s their turn to be away from the kids. As you can imagine, this is really only an option for former spouses who really get along.  (As you can also imagine, new partners pose and additional complication.)
  • One home: Another option is for the parents to find a brand new home for the entire family.  Generally, their goal is to find a place where both parents can maintain separate or mostly-separate living quarters and rotate in and out of the main living spaces house to spend time with the kids.
  • Friends and family: Some spouses choose to live with friends or family when they aren’t in the nest with the children.  We generally see this set-up as a temporary solution either while the divorce is pending or for a finite period following the divorce.
  • Hotels: Some people choose to stay in a hotel when they aren’t in the family home. This also tends to be temporary, as it is an expensive option.  Its benefits include allowing a parent to have privacy and the flexibility of not having to enter into a longer term lease.

The Benefits of Collaborative Law and Mediation

If the “what to do with the house” decision is left up to the court, it is likely to default to one of the traditional approaches — such as the house is sold or one spouse is awarded the house.  If a version of bird nesting is something you think might work for your family, you should strongly consider an alternative approach to divorce like collaborative law or mediation.  Creative approaches aren’t generally what courts are best at, and most families find there are far greater opportunities to tailor a parenting plan and living situation to their families needs when they opt out of traditional divorce litigation.

At Freed Marcroft, we also often recommend that parents considering bird nesting onboard a mental health professional who focuses his or her practice on children and divorce.  A therapist can be an invaluable resource for making sure your decisions regarding the parenting plan and living arrangements will work well for your kids.  In addition, he or she can flag things you should consider before deciding to continue to share a space with your former spouse.

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Freed Marcroft’s attorneys guide select clients through the legal aspects of divorce while remaining mindful of their overall wellness.  To discuss our helping with your situation, contact us today either here or by phone at 860-560-8160.

Meghan Freed and Kristen Marcroft are members of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce (CCND), and the Collaborative Divorce Lawyers Association of Greater Hartford, Connecticut (CDLA). Meghan Freed is a member of the Connecticut Collaborative Divorce Group (CCDG).

Meghan FreedKristen Marcroft, and Ann Newman have supplemented their formal legal education with advanced training in mediation. They are all members of the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce.

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Written by Meghan Freed