As the cost of living continues to rise, divorcing couples are increasingly adopting a new approach to caring for their children: ‘birdnesting’. Rather than one party moving out of the marital home and the children dividing their time between their parents in separate households, birdnesting sees the children staying put in the established family home and the parents moving in and out of their alternative accommodation to take turns at looking after the family at home.
The name, birdnesting, comes from the similarity with birds that take it in turns to look after the chicks in the nest whilst the other parent goes off in search of food, but how does it work in practice for parents and what is the impact on the children?
One significant benefit is that the children retain the stability and security of staying in the familiar surroundings of their family home. No time is lost on a Sunday night frantically calling the other parent in search of a lost PE kit or schoolbook because the children spend all their time in one place while the parents rotate in and out. This routine can be particularly important to children whose parents are going through a divorce, offering some comfort and stability at a time when their whole life is changing. It also ensures they spend good quality time with both parents. Often, when one parent moves out of the family home, circumstances dictate they move to smaller accommodation or into another household, which can make overnight contact with their children difficult. Birdnesting can ensure both parents commit to a routine, and that they stick to it.
Of course, birdnesting is not always appropriate – in situations where there is an imbalance of power or previous emotional or physical abuse, for example – and the success of any birdnesting arrangement will depend on the specific dynamics of the family in question.
And it is not for the faint hearted. Birdnesting parents should ensure they have a good working relationship – they will inevitably encounter each other at handovers and potentially find themselves cleaning up each other’s mess, doing their washing, or restocking the fridge. Whilst birdnesting keeps the children in one place, it is likely to entail considerable disruption for the separating parents, which can be difficult to manage.
But for many divorcing or separating couples, the financial benefits of birdnesting are increasing its popularity as an interim option while their longer-term family arrangements are being decided. For many families, running one property is a financial struggle, let alone running two properties of a similar size and standard. Being able to continue to run the family home for the sake of the children, if only as an interim measure, is increasingly appealing to many separating parents. With financial remedy proceedings on average taking more than 18 months to get through the courts, birdnesting can offer an affordable alternative at least until a long-term financial settlement is finalised.
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