Family & Divorce

Is Birdnesting the new divorce trend?

Splitting up from a partner is always hard, especially if children are caught up in the process. And with reams of international research suggesting how unsettling divorce can be for young people, some parents are turning to an innovative solution to try and help ease the process.

10 Aug 2021

Team name
Sally Ward

‘Birdnesting’ or ‘nesting’ is a way of living that enables children to remain in the family home and spend time with each parent there. Each parent stays at the home during their agreed custody time, then elsewhere when they’re ‘off duty’. The concept gets its name from bird parents, who keep their chicks safe in a nest and alternately fly in and out to care for them.

We are seeing more families start to embrace the concept.

This trend has been followed by some high-profile parents. Mad Men’s Anne Dudek and Matthew Heller went public about nesting after their divorce in 2016, and actor Gwyneth Paltrow is reported to have stayed frequently at the home she used to share with musician Chris Martin, long after they broke up.

The main driver is a more general increase in awareness about children’s mental health, which has led more parents to consider the potential of alternative custody arrangements.

Experts are divided on its impact on both children and parents. The benefit of these arrangements has not yet been fully assessed. Some believe it’s healthier for children, by enabling them to retain existing routines and adapt more slowly to changes in the family.

But for some it can create a “halfway house” situation which doesn’t help children process the reality of their parents’ separation. It can be difficult for children to know if it was mum or dad’s house, or if they are working out if they were getting back together.

The impact of birdnesting on parents is also disputed. It can help buy a bit of time and ease the pressure on them. Both parties can mull over future steps and avoid knee-jerk or costly decisions. A nesting period also provides “breathing space” to help former partners figure out what they want their long-term co-parenting plan to look like.

Birdnesting isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. For a start, some couples will lack the financial resources or support networks to find alternative accommodation during ‘off-duty’ time. It won’t be the right option if there’s still a high level of conflict, if one of the parents can’t commit to the arrangement or if it simply doesn’t feel like the right fit. There need to be very spelled-out agreements and you need to have a good relationship with your ex. It is a good idea to have the arrangements written up in an agreement for both parents and possibly older children to refer back to if arrangements become a little tricky.

Even if birdnesting provides a short-term solution, such as while you wait to sell the family home, you will need to agree long term arrangements and have fully separate households after a while.

M&P Commentary


Sally Ward, a Senior Associate Solicitor in the Family team, said:

“Whether you need help in negotiating or writing up this kind of arrangement, or if you have tried birdnesting and it hasn’t worked for your family, or if there is simply too much conflict for you to consider it and you need to establishing custody and access routine for your children, our experienced and dedicated team of family lawyers can help you with arrangements. Call us today on 01708 784000.”

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