Bird Nesting as a Child Custody Solution

Is it Healthy to Maintain a Relationship Beyond its Expiration Date?

An increasingly popular approach to co-parenting is “bird nesting.” This involves the parents remaining in the family home but basically living separate lives with specific periods of responsibility for the kids. In most “bird nesting” arrangements the parents continue to cohabit but sleep in separate bedrooms. Another variant of this approach is that one parent lives in the home with the children for a specified period of time each week, while the other parent lives in a separate residence or friend’s home. These types of arrangements have become more common due to the recent economic recession.

Although both options sound feasible financially, emotionally they don’t work as long term solutions. The emotional tension between the parents continues to build as they share the same home, even if it’s on different days. Generally, these arrangements are often more difficult and confusing for the kids than a two-household solution. It’s not possible to be “kind of” divorced. Over time “bird nesting” creates obstacles to the parents’ ability to fully live their own lives.

Another reason parents try “bird nesting” is that they believe that it is in their children’s best interests for the family to remain intact in some fashion rather than to completely separate. It’s understandable that parents would want to mitigate the emotional damage caused by a physical separation from the other parent. In this regard “bird nesting” can seem like a good compromise. The fact is that having to go your own way, leaving your familiar life for the unknown, is difficult. In the long run, however, that difficult journey is safer for you and your children. Living a semi-separate existence from the other parent in the same home is not a sustainable compromise.

The longer parents have to contend with each other in close quarters once they decide to split, the angrier and more resentful they become. Legal and clinical professionals deal with issues related to this type of arrangement on a regular basis. Their intervention is required due to the escalation of parental conflict that cohabitation engenders. This conflict can lead to charges of domestic violence and subsequent restraining orders.

In my latest book “Change Your Mind” I highlight the potential for increased conflict and the possibility of domestic violence occurring as the result of this type of arrangement. If a finding of domestic violence is established against a parent it creates major barriers to that parent sharing joint legal and physical custody of their children.

“Bird nesting” can also have a very negative impact on the kids. The increased parental conflict that results from this forced intimacy will distract the kids from dealing with what they need to focus on in their lives, which is, their school, friends and extracurricular activities. This arrangement also creates confusion for the kids who will continue to hold out hope that their parents will reunite because they’re still living under the same roof.

If you truly are unable to leave the family residence there are ways to mitigate the stress and protect yourself from accusations that could interfere with your custody rights. Here are some suggestions:

• Seek legal advice regarding your situation and possible options.
• Don’t allow yourself to be provoked by the other parent. If you lose your temper and the police are called your ability to share joint custody will be severely compromised.
• Seek clinical support to help you process your emotions during this challenging time so that you can maintain a steady emotional presence for your kids.
• Don’t directly involve the kids in your separation anxiety, anger or sadness even though these emotions are normal, understandable and justified. The emotional and behavioral example you set will play a big role in how they adjust to their parents’ separation.
• Ensure that the kids get your undivided attention despite the stressful situation you find yourself in.
• Support your kids focusing on developmentally appropriate tasks such as school, friends and extracurricular activities.
“Bird nesting” results in an inability to truly leave the nest. The compromise you make to “bird nest”, after the relationship is over, comes at the cost of that which is most valuable, your freedom.

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