The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Bird's Nest Custody

What is bird's nest custody?

Bird's nest custody is a shared custody arrangement for divorced or separated parents where the children live in only one house, but the parents take turns living in that house with the children, never at the same time.  In other words, mom leaves when dad comes home and dad leaves when mom comes home.  The children remain in the house.

Is bird's nest custody common?

Bird's nest custody of a child is not an extremely common type of child custody arrangement, and typically it is not mandated by a family court unless it is asked for by the parents.  This is actually a positive attribute about bird's nest custody because typically both parents are "on board" with the child custody agreement.

What are the pros and cons of bird's nest custody?

The pros of bird's nest custody

The pros of bird's nest custody of a child are that the child doesn't have to move from one home to another during custody exchanges.  Rather, the parents simply take turns living in the home where the child lives full-time.  From the child's perspective, they have a much more stable life than some other types of child custody arrangements.

Also, communication can be easier on the parents in bird's nest custody.  Because they share the child's home, communication can take the form of leaving notes on the refrigerator or chatting about issues as they alternate their custodial time.

When a child has a living environment where they are more stable, they should be able to enjoy activities like sports or extracurricular activities without the burden of thinking what house they will be living in during scheduled events.


The cons of bird's nest custody

The cons of bird's nest custody are that the parents have to relocate their own lives as thier custodial time with the children changes.  This means they must have another place to live.  This might mean that three places to live are needed for the entire family unit - one place for mom, one place for dad, and the other place for the children that mom and dad share.  This will be more expensive than more traditional forms of child custody, and significantly more expensive than a married couple in a nuclear family experiences.

Another potential negative is that it can be more of a challenge for the parents to move on to other relationships themselves.  The reason is that the bird's nest custody living situation will affect how their future partners would need to live, as well.

Lastly, if the parents don't get along, then bird's nest custody could be awkward as during custody exchanges.

How can a divorced couple make bird's nest custody work?

To make bird's nest custody work, it is crucial to think through the issues that are likely to arise before the custody arrangement starts.  First, determine where the homes will be.  Bird's nest custody only works when the parents live close, so if planning to live out-of-state or far enough away that driving is a burden, then another custody arrangement is probably a better idea.

Next, determine if bird's nest custody is truly in the children's best interests.  The point of bird's nest custody is to create a less disruptive life for the children.  The trade off is that the parents' lives are perhaps made more difficult.  If both parents come to agree that this type of custody arrangement is the best idea for the sake of their children and they are both willing to make the needed sacrifices, then bird's nest custody has a good chance of working.  The last thing parents considering bird's nest custody want is to create conflict because they chose a custody arrangement that led to unneeded stress.

Third, determine if bird's nest custody is financially feasible for all involved.  Since more living residences are needed overall, the cost is likely to be more than other types of custody arrangements.

Consider other people in your lives, as well.  If one parent meets or gets involved with another person after the divorce, bird's nest custody might be awkward and unfeasible.

Make up a list of shared rules on how to run the family home. This includes parenting rules and also the usual issues like home maintenance, chores, etc.

Lastly, consider some issues that exist with roommates.  Who will mow the lawn?  Who will rake the yard?  Who will do laundry?  Who will pay the bills or get the mail?  There are a lot of considerations that need to be addressed, which is why bird's nest custody really cannot work in high-conflict parenting relationships.

What are alternative's to bird's nest custody?

Bird's nest custody has a great benefit to the children in terms of stability after a divorce or separation; however, this comes at a cost - both financial and logistical - to the parents.  For this reason, many co-parents desire to find ways to get the benefits of bird's nest custody without the negative issues that accompany it such as maintaining three homes and experiencing the difficulty in moving on to other relationships because of the awkward situation of having to continuously go from home-to-home.

Perhaps the best alternative to bird's nest custody is to commit to a no-relocation clause in the parenting plan.  According to Family Law Attorney Leslie Ellen Shear, "once a child lives more than twenty minutes away from the nonresidential parent, sustaining the relationship between them necessitates fragmenting the child's life and activities."  By committing to the idea of avoiding parental relocation, divorced or separated parents can help children enjoy the best possible scenario that could happen after a divorce - frequent and natural contact with both parents combined with minimal disruption to the children's lives after the divorce.

Twenty minutes away appears to be a threshold for a significant change in the relationship between the children and the noncustodial parent.  Beyond twenty minutes, the impromptu visits diminish, and the parenting time with the noncustodial parent becomes more formal and scheduled.  When parents live more than one hour from one another, another change in the visitation schedule occurs; the viability of day visits disappears and the children have to rearrange social activities and time with their friends in order to comply with the visitation schedule.

What are the leading reasons that children of divorce tend to suffer negative effects?

Many studies have correlated children of divorce as having an increase chance of several psychological issues.  Children of divorce have been shown to have lower grades, increased school dropout rates, an increased chance of experimenting with illegal substances, lower self-esteem, fewer friends, and several other issues.  But, these statistics are all correlational -  not causal.  In other words, the studies do little to show that the divorce itself caused the issues described.

One of the issues with the correlational studies is that some children of divorce do quite well.  In each study, there are three significant risk factors that drastically increase the chance of children having negative physiological problems after a divorce:

Without resorting to bird's nest custody, committing to high-quality parenting techniques and living close together during the children's childhood is thought to give children the best chance of adjusting to the divorce in ways that do not lead to psychological problems later in life.

An additional benefit of committing early on to a no-relocation agreement in the parenting plan is to avoid future litigation.  Litigation is a no-win situation on several fronts.  It leads to one party feeling like they lost, it inhibits the chance of co-parenting, and the expenses used to pay for it are wasted when that money could otherwise have been used for the children that are being litigated over.  As stated by Sally Adams in her second place winning essay from the American Bar Association, Avoiding Round Two: The Inadequacy of Current Relocation Laws and a Proposed Solution, when parent attempts to relocate, "...the child is again subjected to the painful family court process, where parents engage in costly litigation and once again fight over custody and visitation. The breakup of a family unit is a traumatic event, especially for the children. That trauma continues when parents wish to relocate, starting a second round of arguably needless litigation."


How to implement bird's nest custody
What issues should divorced parents consider with regard to bird's nest custody?
Pros and cons of bird's nest custody
What are the positives and negatives of a bird's nest custody agreement?

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