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What is birdnesting, and is it right for me?

by | Mar 26, 2021 | Divorce, Parenting Plans, Temporary Orders |

You may have heard the advice to not leave the home that you and your spouse share if you’re getting a divorce — particularly if you’re seeking to keep the marital estate and you foresee the divorce going into litigation. While you’re not officially ceding your claim to that property if you vacate it, it might weaken the case you’re trying to make before a judge.. 

But what if you and your spouse are deadlocked over who should stay in the house while the divorce is happening, and yet you don’t want to be in the same physical space with each other? And what if your kids are having a hard time with the idea of a divorce? The solution might be what’s called “birdnesting.” 

What is Birdnesting?

As a Today article explains, birdnesting is a practice in which a couple maintains the family home, the kids live there 100 percent of the time, and each parent rotates between the family home and a separate residence. So, using an example of a mom and dad, Mom spends a week at the house with the kids while Dad lives in a separate residence. Then, the next week, Dad rotates into the family home, and Mom goes into a separate residence. 

“The way I’ve seen nesting done is not people having three homes, as most people, even quite wealthy clients, don’t find that feasible,” said Sherri Sharma, a New York-based family lawyer contacted for the article. “Usually the parents have a studio apartment they share and rotate, and then keep the marital home where the children stay put.”

Alternately, each person could arrange his or her own place to stay, if there’s an understanding family member or friend in each camp, or make some sort of alternate arrangement like an extended stay hotel. The studio apartment suggestion is a good one in that it provides a relatively inexpensive space where each parent can be alone during that time — which can be extremely beneficial. 

Birdnesting Has Its Limitations

There’s the whole matter of making even a small space habitable, which could require cooperation and coordination at a time in which a couple might not be feeling particularly generous with each other. If a couple can’t get on the same page about the logistics required to make this work, it might be too challenging to take on. 

You also have to go into it knowing that it shouldn’t be sustained indefinitely. Dr. Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child, concurs with Sharma on that point. 

“The shock of the painful news to the children is softened by a brief transitional period in which the kids’ environmental surroundings remain the same and the only change is the presence of one parent or the other, versus both [parents] at the same time,” says Walfish of how birdnesting helps children. 

She adds, however, that going longer than three months “risks giving your children an inaccurate message that [the parents] are working on reconciliation. All children of divorce fantasize and wish for their parents to work things out and return to being a complete family unit.”

How Birdnesting Benefits Families

While giving that false hope to kids is a concern, there are clearly benefits to birdnesting for kids, which includes them not having to bring their school necessities to a new, strange setting where one parent might be temporarily living. It provides a sense of structure in a time when structure can be hard to find. 

It’s even conceivable, with enough planning and foresight, to create rules for birdnesting in the temporary orders that guide the divorce process, though customizing a county’s standard version of that will take a little more time and work, and it’s possible for your spouse to object to something in those orders. But it can be a great way to make it clear when and how each person will occupy the family home and the separate residence you’ll maintain through the process. 

If you’re interested in this possibility, or you want to discuss other options regarding the marital estate, the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance can provide you the guidance you need. With experience practicing in both litigation and alternative dispute resolution, the team can help you to settle your divorce — including what happens to the family home.