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  • Laura L. Van Tassel, Esq.

Bird Nesting—What is it and is it right for your family?

While we would all agree that the breakup of a marriage can be distressing for everyone involved, the breakdown of the relationship between parents often means that children have to deal with dramatic changes in their lifestyle which can leave most children feeling worried, confused, hurt, or even angry. All too often I see families confine themselves to traditional models of parenting after separation without considering a model or arrangement that might be better suited to their individual circumstances. Although it’s more common for the children to shuttle back and forth between the parents in their new separate residences, some families either in the short or long term prefer not to impose such an arrangement on their children. Enter nesting.

Bird Nesting refers to an arrangement whereby the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns living in the home with the children. Nesting can also overcome the additional financial distress of having to establish a second family-sized home at the time of separation. The arrangement can be short term while the children adjust to the new family structure or longer if desired. It can also contemplate how the property will be divided when the arrangement comes to an end. Some nesting parents call themselves “apartners” as they live apart while they partner as parents.

Benefits Of Nesting

  • The children have continuity and their routine is not disrupted.

  • There is an ease of reconciliation in the event that the parents are only trying a separation, while ensuring that both parents can maximize their time with the children.

  • The children have stability.

  • The children can live in their familiar environment while they get used to the reality of the separation.

  • The parents have an opportunity to resolve other separation-related issues before having to deal with issues relating to housing.


  • Parents often find it difficult moving in and out of the home.

  • May create difficulties for either parent to establish an alternative serious relationship.

  • May be emotionally challenging for parents to continue to have the level of communication and contact with the other parent that this arrangement requires.

  • May have financial disadvantages if the parents are funding a mortgage on the family home as well as expenses for an alternative off-site residence.

  • Parents can encounter struggles in relation to everyday issues such as cleaning and home care in both residences that they are sharing, particularly if one parent feels the burden is left with them.

Who Should Consider Nesting?

  • Parents who trust each other and communicate respectfully.

  • Parents willing to work cooperatively with each other.

  • Parents who both have a strong commitment to the least amount of disruption in their children’s lives around the time of separation.

  • Parents willing to respect each other’s privacy despite sharing their residence.

  • Ideally, but not necessarily, parents who are able to provide for them to have separate bedrooms in each of the residences.

  • Nesting is not advisable in high conflict relationships.

Successful Nesting Tips:

  • At the outset reach agreement in relation to how household expenses will be paid in each residence and how cleaning and other maintenance tasks will be shared.

  • Agree in advance any rules that may prevent later conflict, such as not allowing a new partner to share the residence.

  • Be clear with the children that the arrangement is likely to be temporary and they should not presume that their parents will reconcile (unless that is a possibility).

  • Be very clear about the schedule so that transitions are certain both for the parents and the children.

  • Try and get advice from a counselor or family therapist before entering into a nesting arrangement.

  • Set out any agreements that you have reached with your partner in writing so that you are both clear about the intentions and expectations.

I have observed that bird nesting works best when there are clear arrangements about parenting, the household and communication. The consistency reduces conflict while promoting positive co-parenting. I believe a clearly drafted arrangement and schedule from the outset is critical to the success and vital in shielding children from potential conflict, so suggest you speak to an experienced family lawyer about crafting a parenting arrangement that will work for your family.

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