Yesterday a certain national newspaper ran a story about a different type of family arrangement following divorce or parental separation. Emanating from America, ‘bird’s nest custody’ involves the children of the family living in only one home, and the parents taking turns living in that home with the children. The basic idea is really nothing new, although it seems that the term ‘bird’s nest custody’ has only been coined in relatively recent times.
Two birds with one stone
The primary rationale behind bird’s nest custody is, of course, stability for the children. Instead of the children moving from one home to the other it is the parents that do the moving. The children live in a secure environment, where they have all of their things and where all of their friends live close by.
From that basic premise of the children remaining in one home there can flow any number of quite different arrangements, depending upon various factors, in particular the amount of time each parent spends with the children and the ‘other’ living arrangements of each parent.
At one end of the spectrum you could have the parents sharing their time with the children equally. This would obviously mean that each parent would have to have another home, more of which in a moment. At the other end of the spectrum you could have the children spending most of their time looked after by one parent, with the other parent coming to stay for, say, just a couple of days a month. In an arrangement such as that the ‘caring’ parent could simply stay with friends or family for those two days, obviating the need for another home.
If another home is required for both of the parents then the ‘Rolls Royce’ option would be for them each to have another home of their own. This would of course mean that they would have to be able to afford to obtain and maintain three homes, which obviously is not an option for many couples. Another option is that the parents share the second home, but obviously that may not be acceptable to many separating couples.
Like a duck to water
Clearly, a bird’s nest custody arrangement relies heavily upon the trust of one parent for the other. Sharing a home after separation in this way is going to be fraught with possible problems if one parent does not approve of the way in which the other parent treats the shared home. This would especially be a problem if the parents both have to use the same bedroom in that home.
There is also the issue of what should happen if either of the parents forms a new relationship. Should their new partner stay with them when they look after the children? Such issues will need to be addressed when considering a bird’s nest custody arrangement.
Don’t count your chickens
And what about the legalities? Well, for the most part I don’t think there will be any. The simple reason for this is that the vast majority of bird’s nest custody arrangements will be agreed between the parties with no need for any court proceedings or court orders. In fact, it must surely be pretty unlikely that a court would impose such an arrangement upon parents, without their agreement. Accordingly, the only time such an arrangement is likely to appear in a court order (a ‘child arrangements order’) is when an agreement to that effect is reached between the parents in the course of court proceedings (and even then the court might take the view that no order is necessary).
There is then the issue of what happens if a bird’s nest custody arrangement breaks down. As such an arrangement relies so heavily upon the consent of the parents it must be unlikely that a court would enforce the arrangement, even if it is incorporated into a court order.
What’s good for the goose
In short, a bird’s nest custody arrangement is another option available to separating parents. However, it is only possible where the necessary resources are available (exactly what is necessary will vary from one arrangement to the next), where the parents are in full agreement, and preferably where they remain on particularly good terms with one another.