Nesting: A living arrangement with advantages for kids

As the relationship between Carlos and Maria, parents of four children, deteriorated, living under the same roof became almost unbearable. Both agreed that someone had to move out. But who? Their decision surprised friends and family alike: the kids would stay and the parents would take turns remaining in the home and living somewhere else.

Nesting and bird nesting refer to an arrangement in which children remain in the family home while the parents take turns being with the kids.

An unusual practice? Maybe, but Ron Ousky, a pioneer in the area of collaborative law (where each spouse has an attorney but the spouses and their lawyers agree to stay out of court) and co-author of the book “The Collaborative Way to Divorce,” says he’s seen a “significant increase” in the number of clients who use nesting to get through the first few months after a divorce.

“I’ve found that, while bird nesting generally becomes difficult over time, it can be a useful bridge to get couples through this initial period, particularly if each parent has family or friends who will take them in during their ‘off-duty’ time.”

Not all parents are willing or able to stay with family or friends during or following a separation or divorce. An option for some is to set up two new homes, one for Mom and one for Dad, while maintaining the home where the children live — obviously a choice that may be expensive.

Other couples rent an apartment or house together and reside there on a rotating basis — when Dad is there, Mom is with the kids, and the other way around. It can be hard to feel at home while living this way. Many of your ex’s clothes and other personal belongings may remain in this home, even when he isn’t there. And, if you had housekeeping issues as a couple, more arguments over dirty laundry on the floor, dishes left in the sink, and throwing out the garbage may await you.

When it comes to the pros of nesting, Dr. Rahil Briggs, a child psychologist, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and director of Healthy Steps at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, says that “the primary advantage of such an arrangement is to maintain some vestige of stability for the child,” something that’s “enormously helpful for children who thrive on routine and consistency.”

The disadvantage, Briggs said, can be the disruption it causes parents “who are struggling themselves to maintain a stable, new routine.” She suggests parents “undertake a certain cost and benefit analysis to ascertain whether there are more advantages to nesting than disadvantages.”

Can nesting work for you and your family? If so, for how long, and when is it time to stop? These are personal decisions best facilitated by a therapist.

I will share that the idea of allowing children to stay in familiar surroundings, in their home, appeals to me. It seems fair. After all, the kids didn’t ask for or want the divorce; why should they pay for the choices of their parents? Yes, rotating in and out of a home shared with a soon-to-be ex is an unpleasant thought and causes anxiety; but don’t our kids have anxiety about moving back and forth from Mom’s house to Dad’s, and back again? Why should they bear this burden instead of us?

But, as a mediator, and as a divorced parent, I know that the question of nesting can be complicated. If considered at all, an honest exploration and evaluation are necessary. Would you be able to handle nesting? Would your spouse?

As parents, we need to take care of ourselves as well as our children. Spending more money than we can afford, or putting ourselves in a living environment likely to adversely affect our own mental health won’t make our kids feel more secure and loved.

For some, nesting can prove a viable option that helps children. For others, the burden is too great.

New York City- and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin, Esq. helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com or (718) 229-6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/home.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Discussing your particular case and circumstances with a legal professional before making important decisions is strongly encouraged.