January is often referred to as “divorce month” because many people wait till after the holidays to make the decision to file for divorce. It is also a good time to come up with a temporary plan to ensure that your children’s lives are not overly disrupted. Nesting may be the solution to that issue.
When I wrote my first post about bird nesting, also called nesting, about 10 years ago, very few people had heard of it. I had nested with my ex in the mid-1990s, and since then had helped many clients create nesting arrangements. Some articles had been written with criticisms of the idea. However, it was clear to me that most parents can nest with well-documented agreements. There was no guide to nesting, so I developed a step-by-step system to help parents nest successfully.
In 2018, I was approached by an editor who had come across my original article. She said, “Nesting is a “trending topic” and we would like you to write a book about it.” When the book was published, in 2020, still many had not heard of nesting. But people contacted me from all over the world for interviews.
Now more and more people have learned about nesting, and more divorcing couples are consulting with lawyers and mental health professionals about the advantages of nesting. There is even a Facebook group for parents who are bird nesting. If you have children and are separating or divorcing, nesting may be a good option for you.
What is nesting?
Nesting is an arrangement where your children remain in the family home, and the parents rotate on-and off-duty according to an agreed-upon schedule. The on-duty parent stays in the home with the children, and the off-duty parent usually leaves the home to stay elsewhere.
Where does the off-duty parent go? Depending on your situation, you may share an off-site studio or apartment, stay with friends or family, or in a shared rental. Thinking outside the box, some of my clients stayed in Airbnb’s or adapted their workplace offices to be able to sleep there. During the pandemic, many nesting arrangements included the off-duty parent remaining in the home, in the attic, or a separate bedroom if the children’s rooms could be rearranged.
Why consider nesting?
It’s good for children. If you can put the welfare of your children ahead of your own emotions, nesting provides a solid structure for your family, safety, consistency, and stability for your children. They adjust to having one parent at a time, without having to pack and move between homes. Their attachment to each parent is secured. Their stress is eased.
It’s good for parents. Nesting ends the stress and conflict in your marriage as you have minimal direct contact with your spouse. You have time to get used to solo parenting, and you will have time and space to work through your emotions so that you can make clear decisions about the future of your marriage. With some time to adjust to the separation, you will have an easier time should you decide to divorce.
How long should you nest?
You may nest for a short time while you decide whether to divorce or reconcile. You may nest until a specific milestone is reached, such as the sale of the home, the end of the school year, or the finalized divorce, or you may nest indefinitely. You may nest until you decide to reconcile or until you and your spouse are ready to divorce. Your nesting plan should include how much notice to give and steps to take when one of you wants to end the nesting. Many of my clients have nested for years. However long you nest, your children will benefit from the stability and consistency of their routines.
How to set up your nesting plan
It is critical that you and your spouse draft a nesting agreement—in writing! It should be tailored to your family and your needs. Commit only to the agreements you can keep. Negotiate agreements together that are sustainable. The agreement should include issues such as a parenting plan, a schedule, how you will manage finances and share expenses, how you will communicate with each other, how to handle emergencies, and how to handle disagreements that may arise. It should also include how you will each care for the home as you rotate in and out. It is important to address dating and new relationships, especially while on-duty. Some people create legal agreements to enforce the nesting plan. My clients usually negotiate in good faith, agreeing only to what they can sincerely commit to. When the children are your top priority, your plan can be tailored to their needs, and you can take your own emotions to your family, friends, or therapist so that you can focus exclusively on a child-centered nesting plan.
You will want to consult with your attorney or mental health professional if you need help with specific issues.