A recent divorce “trend” known as “birdnesting” has caught fire with some celebrities and therapists. What is it? Post-divorce, spouses remain in one household, the marital home, either rotating in and out pursuant to a custody schedule or, in more extreme cases, residing together in different parts of the house.
The theory behind birdnesting is that children transition poorly during divorce and, to help stabilize their status quo, the parents go back and forth rather than the children. We should note that this theory has limited scientific support, and that many therapists suggest that children need to adjust to two households sooner rather than later, as it only makes dealing with the reality of separation and divorce more difficult.
How would it work? Parents will draw up a custody schedule of “in” and “out” of the marital residence. The “out” parent could reside in a nearby apartment or home, and that space could be used alternately by both parents. Or, if the marital residence is large enough, one parent could reside in the main part of the house and the other parent stay in a separate wing or in the basement.
What are the advantages? The children never have to bounce between households; they live in the same home in the same room in the same bed. One parent will always be there, and if the other parent is needed in an emergency, that parent may be there as well. The children get a sense that they come first and the parents are doing everything possible to maximize their needs. Also, the parents working cooperatively in close quarters makes the children feel less bitter about the divorce. From a financial perspective, the parents would have to decide how to split the costs of the marital home and the other residence, but it certainly could have a windfall in savings.
What are the disadvantages? If parents could not live together to the point they had to divorce, it seems unlikely that remaining in such close quarters, or to continue to share the same quarters, will be feasible in the long run. Arguments will ensue and the children will see their parents in a negative light. Putting the children first to this extent, where their needs seem of principal importance, gives the children too much power and inhibits their ability to obey rules and have regular expectations about the ups and downs in life. Parents will have a very hard time moving on with new lives if they continue to see their former spouse nearly every day in the same household.
As you can see, whatever advantages birdnesting seems to offer on the surface in reality seem way more the exception than the rule. But for certain families where the spouses remain very close and great friends, and perhaps where financial realities require sharing a household, this arrangement in the short term could benefit parents and children alike.
If you have questions about birdnesting after divorce, contact us – we can help.