Bird’s nest custody: Another option for separating parents

Family Law|February 8th 2016

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.

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  1. Robin red breast says:

    Perhaps, the most enlightening read regarding family law ever, thank you.

    Doubt very much it shall be reciprocated from Mrs ex. My child has pretty much two of most things. Bikes, scooters, etc

    Such a concept certainly places each child first. Offer made, unfortunately, I doubt very much upon mums acceptance.

    I hope I am so wrong.

  2. Luke says:

    I think in a scenario where each gender has a good chance of getting residency this might sometimes be agreed – but I expect it to be extremely rare because the woman in UK Family Court almost always gets residency and so has no incentive (and in most cases plenty of disincentive) to agree such terms.

    • Nordic says:

      In the Norway and Denmark, where court decisions on residency nowadays are much closer to equality, shared residency arrangements (in two homes) account for 20% to 25% of the post divorce setup. As you suggest, I strongly suspect this positive development in part reflects a more modern and less gender biased judicial.

  3. Otla says:

    It is a fallacy or an invention of combative lawyers that children need a single home. Children move between schools, nurseries, clubs, friend’s homes, and they often move around a lot even when parents are together. Stability is not provided by chaining up children to one place. It is provided by parents who are able to communicate well, and not argue. Such parents stay very far away from solicitors, charities, child support agencies and other poisonous influences that still think that treating children like commodities and profiting from their distress is acceptable. The role of the judge (if ever you could find one to put her finger up at the state and do what is right) ought to be to determine the parent who is unreasonably and impacably hostile to sharing the responsibility of children, and give them a ‘time-out’ for however long it takes to grow up.

    • Nordic says:

      Spot on, except in my view your statement about good parents avoiding the courts. While true, the pressures and perverse incentives on parents going through divorce here are immense. It takes real determination to avoid fighting when everything in the English divorce process is geared to make you do just that. Hence, I don’t think the far superior post divorce outcomes delivered by the Nordic countries reflect better parents on average. I thinks reflects a family law system in this country in which money making, rather than children, so obviously is the true paramount consideration.

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