Do You Have What it Takes to Make a “Bird Nest” Custody Arrangement Work?: Answer Three Questions to Find Out.
How does a bird’s nest work? The “kids” stay home and momma (and daddy?) bird come and go. That is the concept behind “Bird Nest” custody arrangements: the kids stay home and the parents are the ones who “visit.”
How does a Bird Nest custody arrangement work in practice? While there are different variations, the common theme is that the children remain in the family home. Typically, mom and dad each have their own apartment, condo or small house, and live with their children in the family home pursuant to a set custody schedule.
However, I’m aware of one instance where the father lives in the family home full-time, and the mother, who lives in an apartment nearby, comes early in the morning to get the kids ready for school while dad goes to work. Mom picks up the kids from school, goes back to the family home, helps with homework, and then dad is back for dinner. And I just read about an interesting situation where a mother, who felt guilty about causing her marriage to break-up as a result of an affair, bought her ex a condo. Mom moved into a house that she inherited so that her children could continue to reside in the family home.
The idea behind the Bird Nest arrangement is that parents are better able to handle the disruption of moving between homes than children. One court but it this way: “Time and time again I have seen cases (and this is one) where the children are being treated as Frisbees. In general, parents do not seem to appreciate the gross disruption to which children are subjected where one of the parents has frequent access. In this regard, I do not believe there must be evidence that the children are suffering before the court is free to act. To me, it is a matter of common sense. At the risk of falling prey to simplistic generalities, I am of the view that, given a choice, I do not see why anyone would select a living arrangement which involved so much movement from house to house.”
Is a Bird Nest Custody arrangement right for you? If you can answer “yes” to the following three questions, a Bird Nest arrangement is something that you should consider.
#1) Can you afford it? There is no question that a Bird Nest arrangement is substantially more expensive than a standard custody plan. Most families can barely afford the expense of maintaining a single household. Where a Bird’s Nest is involved, the main residence (the bird nest) has to be kept up, and the two other residences (mom’s and dad’s) as well. Obviously, some fortunate families are in a financial position where money for three separate residences isn’t an issue. Other families manage by reducing the size of the family home or moving to a less expensive area to keep the costs down on the main residence. But, for financial reasons, a Bird’s Nest arrangement is not possible for every family.
#2) Do you and your ex have an amicable relationship? If you and your ex still spend a lot of time fighting over trivial issues, a Bird’s Nest relationship is probably not for you. For one thing, a Bird’s Nest requires more interaction between former spouses than a traditional custody arrangement. It also means that former spouses need to be fairly consistent on “house rules.” For example, if one parent insists the kids clean up after themselves, and the other parent doesn’t care, it becomes a confusing situation for the kids. (“Oh, today’s Mom’s Monday so I don’t have to clean my room; whoops, it is Dad’s Tuesday so I do.”) And, both spouses clearly have to be respectful of the fact that the other parent lives in the home as well. (Replacing toilet paper rolls and empting the trash comes to mind.) Clearly, if you have a combative relationship with your ex, a Bird’s Nest custody arrangement is not for you.
#3) Is Your Custody Arrangement Even? Bird’s Nest arrangements work well where the parents have joint custody. For example, if mom and dad share the children close to 50/50 (which requires a lot of moving between homes by the children), a Bird’s Nest provides a good way to avoid the “Frisbee” problem. On the other hand, where one parent has primary custody and the other parent just has occasional “visitation,” (i.e., one dinner a week and every other weekend), the Bird’s Nest arrangement doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So if you have answered “yes” to these three questions”””yes” we can afford it, “yes” we have an amicable relationship and “yes” we have joint custody, consider building a “Bird’s Nest.”
By Wendy Jaffe, Esq.