Though the bird nesting custody arrangement has been around for years, it is almost never discussed in custody matters because it can only happen if both parents are willing to put their anger and dislike of each other aside and cooperate, which is a big ask for most people. However, if done right, this is the most child-centered timesharing arrangement out there. Any parent who does this is truly willing to do anything for their kids.
What is Bird Nesting?
In a bird nesting arrangement, the children remain in the marital home, while the parents rotate in and out on their custodial days. There is no overlap between the parents. On their non-custodial days, the parents find their own accommodations. Some end up renting a place or staying with friends or family.
Benefits of Bird Nesting
The major benefit of bird nesting is that the children are afforded some time to adjust to the divorce or separation. Instead of moving between two homes, they comfortably remain in their familiar rooms every single day. It is the parents who must live like nomads. For the kids, this means they can keep their clothes, and do important things such as homework, in one place. It is so much easier for them to keep track of everything. Nothing gets left behind at a parent’s house. The parents do not have to fight over who needs to fetch the items, and the kids do not have to worry about getting in trouble for not being responsible.
Another great benefit is that the divorcing and separating parents get to walk in their children’s shoes and truly understand how hard it can be to move between homes. Parents often try to craft custody agreements that work best for them, rather than their kids. For instance, some parents cannot stand to be without their kids for more than a day, so they ask to see their children every other day. It might be nice for the parent, but the poor child, especially if school-aged, has to pack up every day and move to a new home. The child has no time to settle in. As adults, we would hate to move homes every day, living out of our suitcases. Our need to see our kids everyday should not trump our kids need for stability.
Bird Nesting is Tough
That being said, very few divorcing and separating parents have the ability to pull off bird nesting. It can be expensive to maintain two (if the parents share the rent of a small studio to use on their non-custodial days) or even three homes (if the parents maintain their own place on their non-custodial days). Most importantly, it also requires patience and consideration towards someone you can’t stand.
It would not be unheard of for an annoying ex to jump at the chance to irritate you, especially if you are easily agitated, by not refilling the toilet paper or leaving two-day old scummy dishes for you clean. They may also be nosy and riffle through your papers or search your computer, so you’ll need to remove them from the home. Talk about a powder keg! One mom actually got arrested for assaulting the dad when he popped into the home (on his non-custodial day) to get an item he forgot. She said, “Tough Sh#t!” and he said, “What’s the big f#@$in’ deal?” And then she attacked him!
Since that time, I’ve recommended that bird nesting last no longer than 3-6 months, just long enough to allow the children to adjust, and for parents to decide the next step. Any longer would be potentially dangerous.
Making Nesting Work
Bird nesting can only work in rare situations. Both parents would need to act in good faith, agree to and abide by house rules, and need to be considerate of each other. If this is impossible, then I do not recommend it because it will only lead to more parental conflict, which would be tough on the kids.
Parents always tell me they would do anything for their kids. For a select few, I have recommended bird nesting, but the vast majority have exclaimed “No! No! No!” once they stopped hyperventilating.
Hawaii and Bird Nesting
Hawaii is uniquely situated to accommodate this arrangement because of the generations of extended family living on the island. If you were born and raised in Hawaii, you probably have no shortage of relatives willing to take you and, maybe even your ex, in for a couple of months.
If you are thinking of bird nesting, please feel free to contact me with questions. If you tried bird nesting, I’d love to hear how it went.