Birdnesting and Child Custody

 Parenting Through A Conscious Uncoupling 

Mom feeding child - Birdnesting


Going through an amicable divorce, sometimes referred to as a “conscious uncoupling”, may make things like division of assets go much more smoothly. But even in a non-contentious divorce, the process can be very stressful for your children. In recent years, a child custody arrangement called ‘Birdnesting’ (or ‘nesting’) has become popular to reduce the impact on the children in a divorce.

But how does it work? And more importantly, does it actually reduce the uncoupling impact on your child?


 What is Birdnesting and How Does it Affect Child Custody? 

Research clearly shows that high-conflict divorce has a deeply negative effect on child adjustment. In some cases, the results are even traumatic. Thus, it’s important to keep the divorce as amicable as possible, and to reduce turbulence at every opportunity.

Birdnesting seeks to accomplish this. A birdnesting arrangement means that the family home is kept intact, and the parents rotate in and out of the primary residence instead of moving the child(ren). As a result, the children do not have to pack or move between houses frequently.

The parents in a birdnesting arrangement will generally have separate residences, or a secondary apartment, and just move in to the primary one when it is their turn. There are two main options for how child custody will work in this scenario. 

  1. Joint custody: The preferable co-parenting arrangement is joint custody. Having joint, or 50/50, decision-making rights over the child makes birdnesting much more feasible. The parents will generally share equal time and responsibility.

  2. One custodial parent/one non-custodial: If only one parent has custodial rights to the child, it can make birdnesting far more complicated. While it is not impossible, it’s important to consult your lawyer/mediator on how to approach this. Splitting time is less cut-and-dry than it is in a joint custody arrangement.


 Pros and Cons of Birdnesting 

It may sound like a complicated lifestyle, but many consciously uncoupled individuals find that it works best for their children. Whether nesting is a good fit for you will depend on the unique circumstances of your divorce.

Although there are pros and cons that we will list below, it’s important to note that birdnesting typically works best as just a short-term arrangement. Many couples find it can be used to ease a child into the separation, but is not often sustainable as a permanent custody arrangement.

 The main pros and cons to be aware of are as follows: 


    • Minimal custody exchanges reduces stress and upheaval for your child

    • The child does not get caught up in the logistical juggling of the parents

    • A child’s schedule, such as social times, extracurricular activities, or sports, won’t have to be uncertain because of moving between houses



    • The biggest con is the logistical challenge this poses for the parents. Parents generally get a secondary apartment that they can swap in and out of, or each parent secures their own secondary residence.

    • Birdnesting is also expensive to maintain, much more so than in traditional child custody arrangements. The parents will often share the added expense of any secondary residences.

    • Additionally, birdnesting can make it more difficult for each parent to move on to new relationships, as they would potentially need to ask their new partner to move in and out of the primary shared residence where their children live.


 Is Birdnesting a Good Option For Your Divorce? 

Feeding child - birdnesting

The value of birdnesting will have to be determined by each parent, and whether or not it would be in the child’s best interest. This arrangement usually only works in an amicable divorce.

There are also several practical considerations that could decide if birdnesting is feasible for your family such as:

  • affordability

  • proximity (more than 20-30 minutes apart could create strain)


 Alternative Child Custody Arrangements to Birdnesting 

If birdnesting is not the right fit for your divorce, or is too cost-prohibitive to sustain, there are several alternatives that may work well. Your lawyer can guide you through which of these alternative options would be the best fit for you.

One option is to be separated but living together, which has become more common in recent years. Remaining under the same roof helps ease financial burdens, and can also be the best fit for low-stress custody exchanges, especially in joint custody arrangements. That being said, when separated but living together with kids, there are a few important caveats…

First, living under the same roof for a couple that doesn’t get along can be risky. If your relationship has become acrimonious, the arrangement can actually be more harmful than helpful for your child. As a result, it’s important to carefully set terms in advance with the help of your lawyer/mediator.

It’s also essential that you are honest with your child about the nature of your relationship. Separated but living together, or live-in parenting, should not be used to deceive your child into believing the marriage is still intact and going well. As you restructure your relationship with your spouse, there should be gentle but honest conversations with your child (from both parents) about the new relationship.

A second alternative that avoids the expenses and logistical challenges of birdnesting is to include a no-relocation clause in your parenting plan. If the non-residential parent lives more than 20 minutes away from the child, there is a greater likelihood that the child’s life will be fragmented. By committing to not relocating, or remaining local, this helps parental presence to stay frequent and natural.

 Conscious Uncoupling and the Benefits of Mediation