Freshly built house model placed in a bird's nest isolated on white. Family concept.

“Bird’s nest custody,” also called “birdnesting” or “nesting,” is an attempt to solve an enduring problem in divorces and child custody cases involving minor children. One of the primary concerns divorcing parents have is the disruption that the divorce will cause in their children’s lives, and that concern is often justified. When parents divorce, children can feel literally uprooted.

Sometimes it’s necessary for parents to sell the house in which the children have spent much, or all, of their lives. Other times, children spend some nights in the place they know as home, and other nights at “mom’s place” or “dad’s place.” Either way, it can be difficult for children to feel settled, and stability is critical, especially after a family upheaval like a separation and divorce.

For years, shuttling children back and forth between parents’ homes has seemed like a necessary evil in joint child custody situations. After all, children need to have a strong relationship with both parents whenever possible, so they need to spend meaningful time with both parents. And parents need to be deeply present in their childrens’ lives—not just occasional visitors. Accordingly, a bird’s nest custody arrangement may allow for the needs of both parents and children to be met—but it’s not for everyone.

How Does a Bird’s Nest Custody Arrangement Work?

Much like actual birds take turns minding the chicks in the nest, a bird’s nest custody arrangement involves the children remaining in one home, usually the familiar home in which the entire family previously lived, while the parents rotate in and out during their scheduled access period with the children. The children never need to worry about “whose house” they are located at on a particular day. They never have to live out of a suitcase going from home to another. They are simply at home all the time, with one of their parents caring for them.

Of course, the parent who is not spending time with the children needs to have a place to be. In some situations, each parent makes other living arrangements—perhaps staying with a nearby family member, or having a small apartment of their own. Other times, the parents share a single place, and alternate staying there when “off-duty.” In a short-lived sitcom that focused on a family with a bird’s nest custody arrangement, the parents switched off staying in the house with the kids, or in the detached garage behind the house.

If you’re intrigued by the possibilities of bird’s nest custody, don’t leap in without taking into account some important considerations.

What to Think About When Considering Bird’s Nest Custody

Bird’s nest custody can be a great option for you and your kids—if you think it through carefully first. Some important issues to think about include:

One Alternate Residence, or Two?

An important decision is where each parent will stay during their “off-duty” time. If you and your co-parent each have your own off-duty home, that could mean that you are paying for three residences: each parent’s home, and the primary home where the kids stay. That’s an expensive option, but it does avoid some of the pitfalls of time-sharing an off-duty residence.

If you and your ex decide to switch off time in a single apartment, how will you preserve your own privacy and boundaries? Are you comfortable having your ex in a place where you live while you’re not there? (It is important to note, if there’s not a certain level of trust and respect, this type of custody arrangement might not be for you). And although you won’t be sharing the same space at the same time, in a sense, you will be roommates. Are you able to come to an agreement for cleaning and chores? Buying groceries?

Who Owns the Primary Home?

After the divorce is final, who will own the primary home (the “nest”)? If only one of the parents, how will shared expenses, such as utilities, taxes, and homeowners’ insurance be handled? What if the parent who owns the home wants or needs to sell it?

If you and your co-parent decide to share ownership of the home, what happens if one of you wants or needs to sell (say, due to a job transfer out of state)? What happens if one of you dies—who would inherit ownership of the other parent’s interest in the home?

How Do You Choose a Bird’s Nest Custody Schedule?

Do you and your co-parent agree about how and when to switch off living in the primary home? A “one week on, one week off” schedule is common, but the options are many. Can you and your co-parent find a bird’s nest custody schedule that works for you and your children? How will you deal with vacations and holidays? Can the off-duty parent stay in the house when the on-duty parent is traveling with the kids?

What Happens When a Parent Enters a New Relationship?

It’s one thing for two parents to switch off living in one (or possibly two) residences with one another. What do you envision happening when one of you enters into another serious relationship, or even remarries? Would the new spouse of one parent be willing to move back and forth between homes? What if the new spouse has children of their own who would be impacted by the arrangement? Would the ex-spouse be comfortable having the new spouse (and possibly their children)be present in their home while they are not there?

How Long Will a Bird’s Nest Custody Schedule Last?

Can you and your co-parent decide how long you want a bird’s nest custody to continue? For a year or two, until your children adjust to the divorce? Until one parent remarries? Until the youngest child reaches adulthood? Indefinitely? It’s important for you and your co-parent to get on the same page about this issue, so that you can manage your children’s expectations. What will happen if one of you wants to discontinue this custody arrangement, and the other one wants to maintain the schedule?

How Will You Resolve Disputes?

Let’s face it: if you are sharing both child custody and living space(s) with your co-parent, you are likely to have disagreements. Some will be minor; some will make it difficult to continue your bird’s nest custody arrangement unless resolved expeditiously. It’s helpful to anticipate in advance that there will be disagreements and agree (while they are still hypothetical) on what you will do to resolve them. Mediation is often a good option to resolve any family law dispute.

Work with an Experienced Child Custody Attorney

Like anything else you do for your child’s benefit, it’s important to do your research before agreeing to this type of custody. While the arrangement can preserve stability and routine for kids, it works best when the adults involved have spent time thinking about and discussing the terms of the bird’s nest custody arrangement.

To explore whether this option is right for your family, and get experienced help putting a winning child custody plan into action, contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Child Custody