As interest rates continue to rise the ability of couples who are ending their relationship to sell the family home and raise sufficient funds to buy 2 new family sized homes is being severely curtailed. This is leading to separating and divorcing couples to turn to an innovative living arrangement known as birdnesting.
What is birdnesting?
“Birdnesting” or “nesting” is a way of living that enables a couple to maintain joint ownership of the family home and for the children to remain living in the family home. Each parent spends time at the family home with the children and then leaves to live in a separate property elsewhere. This “other place” can be anywhere that is not the “nest”. This could be in a rented flat or with friends or relatives nearby.
The name comes from birds taking it in turns to keep their chicks safe in a nest whilst the other bird leaves the nest to search for food.
Although this is still a relatively new concept in the United Kingdom, in Sweden, where equally shared time with children has been commonplace for decades, some divorced parents have rotated homes as far back as the 1970s.
The benefits of bird nesting include maintaining a stable home and schooling for children, while reducing household bills after a separation.
How long does birdnesting last in divorce?
It is meant to be a short to medium term arrangement. It allows everyone to adjust until property issues are settled and longer term housing options are secured. Nesting should be regarded as a temporary plan, rather than as a long term or permanent plan.
When is birdnesting not appropriate?
Nesting is not appropriate in every case, and usually works better where the separation is amicable and the parents are able to cooperate and communicate well.
Nesting would not be appropriate in the following situations:
- If there are safeguarding concerns for children.
- Where there are allegations of domestic abuse and/or violence, including psychological harm.
- When parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation or divorce.
- If parents are not willing to cooperate with each other.
- When one or both parents has children from a previous relationship.
- If one parent lives a long distance away from the family home.
- If a parent travels a lot with their employment.
Ultimately, nesting is not for everyone. It requires a lot of cooperation and communication and can be emotionally and financially challenging. But for some separated couples, it can be a practical way to co-parent their children and maintain a sense of stability for the family.
Birdnesting pros and cons
Bird nesting after divorce is not a magic bullet solution to the traditional two-home separation or divorce; it is simply an option which might assist parents in caring for their children post-separation or divorce.
Bird nesting requires a lot more work than living separately in a traditional divorce arrangement. It requires strong cooperation, communication and compromise between the parents. If a couple cannot communicate or there is still a high level of conflict between the couple – birdnesting is probably not the option for them.
Birdnesting after divorce prioritises the needs of the children and eases the emotional impact on children that arises from a separation. A child doesn’t have to move from one house to another. The family home continues to be a place of safety, familiarity, and comfort for the child.
Bird nesting is less of a serious upheaval. No selling the family home, no mortgage applications. The end of a marriage or relationship is difficult enough without having to find other home(s) as well.
With increasing mortgage rates, and rising house prices, birdnesting parents can save money by only having to purchase or rent a smaller lower-cost home which meets the needs of only one person rather than having to buy two more expensive family sized homes.
Bird nesting can also delay the expenses and taxes linked to house sales and purchases.
Bird nesting also ensures the children have all their clothes, possessions in one place. This saves money as parents don’t have to buy two of everything for the children to have in each of their homes or to shuttle key possessions back and forth.
Bird nesting allows a couple to continue to co-own their family home as an asset and sell it at a time that will work better for them in the future. It also prevents conflict over who should get to keep the mortgage as the couple maintain joint ownership of the family home.
Disputes about household issues:
Despite the reduction in costs, disputes can arise as to who uses the utilities more, who is responsible for household chores and who should pay for any damages or repairs to the property.
One possible solution is to split the cost of a cleaner for the family home and for each person to restock the fridge on an ad-hoc basis.
Bird nesting does not require any legal involvement, however steps can be taken to address some of the legal and practical pitfalls by entering into a Separation Agreement which can include the terms for occupying the home during a birdnesting arrangement. A Separation Agreement can include practical details such as:
- How to share the expenses of the family home
- The schedules of each parent spending time at the family home
- Arrangements for household chores.
- How the cost of the additional home will be covered.
- How long should the family home be used for birdnesting?
- The division of equity when the family home is eventually sold.
While bird nesting may cut down on changes in children’s lives, it also creates privacy challenges for the adults, such as what happens if someone starts dating, or who can go into what room. Your belongings and lifestyle are easily observable by the co-parent, especially if you share the home.
Failure to break ties
With bird nesting a couple remain financially tied for longer than they normally would be following a divorce. This is largely contrary to English divorce law, which encourages a clean financial break in divorce matters so that each party can get on with their life independently. Accordingly, bird nesting is unlikely to be a suitable long-term arrangement and should be seen as more of a holding position while a longer-term plan is formulated.
A false sense of security for the children
Bird nesting creates a “halfway house” situation which may not help children process the reality of their parents’ separation. It may also cause ambiguity or false promises as to the reality of their parents’ separation as a child may not be able to distinguish whether it is mum or dad’s house, or whether the parents are getting back together.
How does bird nesting work in reality?
The success of bird nesting lies with the parents of the children working together and having a detailed plan to prevent conflict. The plan should contain clear and consistent boundaries on a wide range of issues, from parenting and finances, to running and maintaining the home. Cooperation and communication are the keys to successful nesting. Couples should consider having regular meeting to discuss what is working and what isn’t working.
These are three possible birdnesting schedules that parents can adopt:
Alternate every other week.
This is one of the simplest schedules, which provides an entire week with the children, and can be more relaxing and less hectic than shorter stays.
One parent stays with the children on Monday and Tuesday (2), and the other parent stays with them for Wednesday and Thursday (2).
Then one parent stays with the children for the three days over the weekend (3), and it is alternated.
A happy medium between the above two other options. This involves a 5-day stay with the children without a transition.
An added benefit with this schedule is that the children are always with the same parent Mondays and Tuesdays (2), and the other parent Wednesdays and Thursdays (2). Only Fridays through to Sundays alternate.
While birdnesting has its challenges, if the situation is a good fit, it can offer stability and comfort to the children for those going through a separation or divorce. It is an option worth considering for parents looking to minimize the impact of divorce on their children.
Frequently asked questions and other resources
How does nesting help children adjust to separation?
Nesting aims to keep children’s lives as undisrupted as possible by having them stay in their family home. This can be really helpful because it allows children to maintain a sense of stability and continuity. They get to stay in their own rooms, go to the same schools, and have their own routines. Staying in the comfort of their own home with their familiar surroundings can help support children as they adjust to the separation or divorce of their parents.
However, nesting may be confusing for children if it continues indefinitely. They may feel they are in a situation of limbo. They may ask whose house is it, or how final is the separation if they don’t have separate homes?
Why do people do birdnest?
Often out of necessity. For some families there may be insufficient monies for both parents to adequately purchase two new homes for themselves, or they may not be able to raise new mortgages. In others the cost of continuing to pay the outgoings for the family home may prohibit one parent from securing alternative rented accommodation for themselves.
As well as cost, the logistics can also be a factor. Regularly packing bags and moving children between two homes can take its toll on both the parents and children.
When does bird nesting work?
Both parents need to be committed to raising their children co-operatively and jointly for it to be a viable and successful solution. They need to able to put the best interests and needs of the children as well as their responsibilities as parents / co-parents above their own personal self-interest.