Nesting is a parenting arrangement where separated parents alternate living in the family home while children continue to live there full-time. It is usually a temporary plan that can provide children with stability while parents transition into their new lives as single people. Some couples also choose nesting during a period of separation which they believe may be temporary.
Nesting works best when parents trust each other. This does not necessarily mean complete trust. That level of confidence is hard to come by in divorce. Maybe you do not trust the other parent financially, or maybe you know for a fact that they cheated on you. Those things do not have to be co-parenting deal-breakers. The critical factor is that you trust each other to take care of the children and put their needs first.
Successful nesting generally requires a parenting schedule that gives each parent blocks of time with the children. This could mean alternating weeks, but alternating a few days at a time can also work. Longer blocks are usually more convenient than shorter ones due to the need to move things back and forth. Parents do not have to have equal time.
Finances will also be an important part of the picture. Each parent will need to maintain cost-effective lodging outside of the family home for the duration of the nesting agreement. Typically, after a divorce, each parent purchases or rents a new separate home. For most couples, funding two new homes while also keeping the original family home will be out of financial reach. Parents who collaborate well and do not feel the need for total privacy may be able to rent one apartment and alternate living in that space. Others may need to find a way to set up completely separate spaces.
Pros and Cons of Nesting
A nesting arrangement has some clear advantages, but it generally comes with some disadvantages as well. Here are a few things to consider when trying to decide if it will work for your family.
- Children keep a sense of stability and have more time to adapt to the new family structure.
- It is easier for children to keep belongings in one location rather than carting them between two homes.
- Children get to observe their parents cooperating with each other.
- Parents who spend extended periods of time with children are more likely to develop or maintain close relationships with them.
- Parents gain time to settle finances and work out the best ways to move forward.
- If set up carefully, the arrangement can have financial benefits.
- Parents get to work on co-parenting skills while the children are still in a familiar living environment.
- Parents get to experience what it is like to move back and forth between two homes before their children have to do it.
- If parents collaborate so well that it seems nothing has really changed, children may find it hard to accept the end of their marriage.
- If parents are unable to collaborate well at all, children may be exposed to more stress and conflict than they would be if parents were more fully separated.
- Even for parents who do collaborate well, it can be hard to maintain the necessary amicability over time, especially if things turn ugly with other aspects of the divorce.
- Parents who share one apartment plus the family home may not have much privacy.
- The arrangement may require working out more details than other parenting plans, such as:
- How do parents divide the expenses of maintaining the family home?
- Who stocks the refrigerator with staples that everyone uses?
- Who does the household chores?
Questions to Consider Before Trying Nesting
If you are not sure that nesting is right for your family, mediation can be a good forum for figuring it out. Here are a few questions to help you address the issue:
- Which specific parenting tasks do each of you currently perform and does either parent want this to change?
- Do you generally get along with each other, or is a close co-parenting relationship likely to increase conflict rather than decrease it?
- What are your respective work demands, and are they likely to stay the same or change?
- Where is your child’s school?
- Where are your child’s extracurricular activities?
- What kind of transportation needs does your child have?
- How old is your child?
- What is your child’s temperament?
- Is your child easy-going and adaptable or easily upset by frequent changes?
- Is your child generally organized and able to keep track of belongings or very disorganized?
If you have more than one child, repeat the analysis for each. As you start to discuss these questions, others will surely come to mind, and the practical solutions will begin to grow clearer.
When to Bring in Expert Help
If you have considered all the issues and are still uncertain, you might benefit from the help of a child custody specialist. You can hire a joint expert to give you an objective opinion about what would work best for your family. You can even consider including a child specialist in mediation.
If you do decide to work with an expert, try to find someone who is a licensed mental health professional, has training in child development and family systems, and has extensive experience working with families going through divorce. This kind of specialist will know how to be neutral instead of taking sides with either parent. They will also be able to provide both of you with information and guidance. Above all, they will look out for the best interests of the children and ensure that their needs stay at the forefront during negotiations.
In our next post, we will look at some families who tried nesting, and see how it worked out for them. Meanwhile, if you are interested in working on a parenting plan that incorporates nesting—or on any kind of parenting plan at all—you can contact one of our experienced child custody mediators for more information.