Can Nesting Help Your Clients Have a Better Divorce?

Nesting provides respite from marital conflict and a stable home for the kids.

A new trend has emerged called “Nesting” (sometimes called “Birdnesting”) while separated or divorcing. The retired hit sitcom “Splitting up Together” brought nesting into the mainstream. My interest in nesting goes back to 1994 when my ex and I nested for 15 months. Most people have not heard of "nesting" during divorce, or perhaps don't fully understand how it works. 

I originally wrote about nesting in August 2014.  My book, The Parent's Guide to Birdnesting: A Child-Centered Solution to Co-Parenting During Separation and Divorce, was published by Simon and Schuster in September 2020. In this article, I will give you an overview of nesting so that you can consider with your clients whether nesting is right for their family.

What is Nesting?

Nesting refers to a transitional arrangement where parents continue to share the family home and take turns being “on duty” with their children.  The children stay in the home full time, which gives them more time to adapt to the other changes in the family.  The parents may live in separate areas within the home or, more commonly, in another location when they are “off-duty.”  Some parents share the off-site residence, while others find separate living quarters, or stay with friends or family. 

Studies show that children suffer when their parents are in conflict. The goal of nesting is to provide a respite from marital conflict, a stable home for the children, and time for decision-making while the marital status is in flux.  Nesting parents work out agreements about communication, schedules, and finances. 

Sharing the nest is usually temporary, until further along in the divorce process when parents have made decisions about the home and the timeshare schedule. Parents may nest for months or even several years. I spoke to someone recently who told me that she and her ex nested for almost seven years. Some parents agree to nest until a milestone is reached, such as the children’s graduation from high school.  Sometimes nesting gives couples the time and respite to work on their marriage and eventually reconcile.

Nesting works well for parents who are able to communicate respectfully with each other, and who can respectfully manage to leave the family home in a reasonable condition when turning over the duties to the other parent.  Nesting can be a good choice for parents who have minimal conflict.  These parents are willing to put their children’s welfare ahead of their own emotions.  It can be hard to move in and out of the family home, and these parents learn first-hand what their children may experience later when they live under two roofs. 

Advantages of Nesting: 

1.     Nesting provides some stability and minimal disruption for the children while they adjust to their parents’ separation and divorce.  Their routines may not change much. 

2.     The children have quality time with each parent. 

3.     The separation usually eases the stress and conflict between the parents, giving them some respite as they evaluate their marriage and their options.

4.     Making and keeping agreements during the nesting period helps rebuild trust and goodwill between the parents.

5.     Some nesting parents call themselves “apartners” as they live apart while they partner as co-parents. 

6.     Nesting gives both parents time to sort out the other divorce-related issues before making big decisions and changes about housing. 

7.     If nesting is during a trial separation, and the parents are both actively working on the marriage, some parents may be able to reconcile. 

Disadvantages of Nesting: 

1.     Most adults find it disruptive to move in and out of the family home, and the alternate location may be less than ideal. 

2.     It may be costly to support the family home as well as one or two other living quarters. 

3.     Nesting is not advisable in high conflict relationships, or where there are coercive control issues. 

4.     An explicit agreement regarding schedules with the children, finances, and communication is essential. 

5.     Nesting may become problematic when either parent develops a new serious, long-term relationship. 

6.     Nesting is not advisable unless both parents have at least some trust in each other.

Steps to Successful Nesting

1. Decide whether both parents will remain in the area or city.  Nesting works when both parents are available for their “on duty” parenting time.

2. Think through the value of nesting for the children and ask your clients whether they can set aside their own comfort and prioritize the comfort of their children.  Nesting works best when both parents remain actively involved with their children.

3. Consider your clients' finances and whether they can afford to support alternate living locations.  Increasing financial stress is not helpful to them or the children.  They may need to reduce their standard of living if they are paying rent or mortgages in two or three locations. (Of course, after the divorce (or when nesting ends) they will be supporting two homes that have space for the children.)

4. Decide whether your client and their spouse can share the “off-site” location, or whether they will each need their own space. 

5. Support your client's work together with the other parent to create a consistent and stable home for the children.  Help them find ways to communicate in a respectful manner about matters relating to the children, the home, and finances.  Use communication tools, such as a shared online family calendar, to make the transitions easier.  Communicate regularly about how the children are doing.

6. Encourage them to act rationally, not emotionally. (Divorce Coaches can help with this.)

7. Develop a timeshare schedule so that each family member (and the school) always knows which parent is “on duty.”  Make sure the schedule will work for the family, and if it doesn’t work well, review and revise it.  Most nesting parents transition in and out of the house once or twice a week, but your client and partner parent need to create a realistic and workable schedule.

8. Make sure the children understand what the parents are doing. Clients may need help developing a way to talk to the children about nesting. Parents may explain that this doesn’t necessarily mean they will reconcile with their other parent.  Let the children know that the nesting may be temporary and that the parents will let them know as decisions are made regarding future living arrangements.

9. Support your clients by helping them develop a written agreement about communication, house rules, household responsibilities, who pays the bills, and how holidays and birthdays will be handled.  Consider setting up a joint “family” bank account to support the home and the children.  Clients may choose to consult with a financial specialist who will help them set up a realistic budget.

10. Encourage your clients to get help from a family therapist if necessary.  The family therapist can help them create a parenting plan that works for their family’s unique needs.

Dr. Buscho will be presenting a webinar on January 13, 2021, on this topic. Click HERE to register to attend and receive a replay recording

© Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 2019  Previously published in an earlier form in Psychology Today.