Can Divorcing Parents Share the Nest?
Creative parenting arrangements can take many forms, one of which is nesting. In a nesting arrangement, the children are the ones who “keep the house” while the parents take turns living there. For many families, nesting allows for the least possible disruption at a time when so much is changing in their lives. But it’s not for everyone. This post addresses some of the pros and cons of nesting.
The advantages of nesting begin with the simple fact that it buys more time for the parents to work out longer-term housing solutions. Often, neither spouse is prepared to part with the house and by nesting, parents can postpone that decision while they continue negotiations. Sharing the house also allows both parents to have time with the children in an equal home setting, preventing one parent from feeling disadvantaged because he or she is the one who moved “out.” Keeping the same trusted neighbors, carpools and baby sitters maintains a familiar support network.
There are also financial incentives like eliminating the need for duplicate beds, clothes and toys. In fact, monetary concerns often make nesting a practical alternative to maintaining two separate households. Renting or buying another space big enough to accommodate children is out of reach for many families. Significant cost savings can be realized by taking advantage of temporary housing – or even staying with friends or relatives while not living in the house. Other benefits of nesting include:
- It takes the urgency out of finding longer-term housing.
- It establishes a safe space to learn how to be a solo mom or dad.
- Nesting starts the clock on the separation required in many jurisdictions for no-fault divorce, including Washington, DC and Virginia (*Maryland no longer requires a period of physical separation to obtain a “mutual consent divorce.”)
- It can help smooth the children’s transition through their parents’ divorce.
For some, the drawbacks of nesting are equally compelling. Nesting requires a great deal of cooperation and trust between divorcing spouses and raises some important questions:
- How does one create and preserve the new boundaries that divorce necessitates?
- While in the house – Does it make sense to take turns in the same bedroom and bed? Or to each occupy separate bedrooms and lock doors?
- While out of the house – Does it make sense to also share the same alternative housing? Or maintain separate additional living spaces?
- How will household maintenance, bill-paying and chores be managed? What condition is the place left in when each steps into and out of their turn in the house?
- How might the nesting arrangement impact each one’s ability to move on and form new relationships?
- Does nesting prolong a distressing partnership and/or delay the inevitable break?
- Do the stresses outweigh the benefits? And what other options are feasible?
For most, the answers to these questions mean that nesting works best as a temporary arrangement, though there are the rare examples of couples who nest until their children leave for college. On the other hand, nesting is almost always inappropriate when a parent faces mental illness or addiction or domestic violence.
Nesting can be nurturing and viable for the whole family when parents are respectful, cooperative and work with a clearly drafted parenting plan. Like all good parenting arrangements, the best one is the one that works.