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Nesting and Child Custody in Divorce Mediation

by | Feb 13, 2023 | Child Support, Divorce, Family Court, Mediation

Nesting is a child sharing arrangement in divorce where the children remain full time in the family home and the parents move in when it is their parenting time, and move out when it is the other parent’s custodial time.  This is not a very common practice but occasionally will provide couples with an option that provides the children with ongoing stability, may keep overall housing costs down, and may solve certain practical challenges related to commute times and proximity to the children’s friends and school.  In this writing I will focus on five important considerations you should have as you explore the possibility of nesting.  Before proceeding any further I provide the disclaimer that I studied law and not psychology.  Nesting is complex and this writing is based on my experience with the challenges I have seen my mediating clients experience, and not on any perspectives gained in studies on the subject or from a therapeutic setting

So why do people nest?  The biggest reason seems to be stability for the children.  Nesting allows the children to remain full time in the family home.  They do not need to move from one household to the other and concern themselves with packing up and making sure they have everything they need as they head to spend time in the other parent’s home.  When one parent moves out finances may make it necessary for there to be some distance between homes which can result in commutes to school. Nesting allows children to remain in close proximity to their schools and their established friends full time.  In a recent mediation, school was so close the children could walk to and from school.  Their friends were within walking distance so the parent moving out was going to have the  children somewhere less than ideal during their time.  Property division and support issues in their divorce may require the home being sold, or at least downsized to make things more financially feasible.  Getting creative can allow the parents to share the cost of the family home where the children remain, and a smaller shared second location that only needs to be able to accommodate the out parent.  The rental cost can be much less than renting a second place with room for the children to be comfortable.  Couples are attracted to the idea of making sure the children are as comfortable as possible through the unavoidable changes that happen with divorce.  So why shouldn’t we all consider nesting when we divorce?  Here are some considerations:  

Keep in Mind entanglements  Divorce is an untangling of sorts.  We divide up the property accumulated, we make each spouse responsible for their own finances after any child support, or spousal support considerations, and we typically see the couple separate and move on independent of each other.  Having children together necessarily keeps couples connected in shared parenting responsibilities.  Even so, custody and visitation orders spell out each parents rights and responsibilities with the children to provide a road map and to minimize the need for frequent scheduling interaction between parents.  Nesting keeps the parents more financially entangled with managing the shared household costs and the cost of the secondary residence.  When they are in the primary home there are issues of food sharing and the sharing of responsibilities to upkeep the home.  Simple things such as dishes left in the sink or disregard for help with cleaning can pose challenges given the continued sharing of space.  To enter into a nesting arrangement it is important to have clear communication about shared responsibilities and a clear understanding what the sharing of finances and necessary tasks will look like.

 Include an Opt-Out Option Nesting may make sense now, but provide a clear plan to address what it will look like when you move away from nesting.  Nesting is usually a transitional plan and will not usually remain the long term arrangement.  In your divorce decree include opt out language that allows either parent to decide it is no longer working.  Spell out what will happen with the housing arrangement, what will happen financially, and what the timing of the shift will look like.  The time spent on doing so is well worth it because there is a very good chance that day will come, and having plan B in place will make you prepared for the eventuality so you don’t have to go back to the drawing board.

Consider Privacy When relationships are over there is a reasonable expectation that both spouses will be allowed to move on independently with their own lives and will have the privacy to do so.  Typically each spouse moves into their separate housing arrangement that provides that privacy.  Sharing living space necessarily takes away some of that privacy.  A window remains open into the lives of each other which may not really matter to you, but is certainly another consideration as you explore this option.

Consider New RelationshipsHand in hand with privacy is the eventuality that one or both spouses will move into a new relationship.  What does that look like with the sharing of space?  A nesting situation may create challenges in the new relationship, and while it is helpful to have communication between spouses when new partners are being introduced to the children, the moving in and out of the family home may no longer work when there are new partners and new relationships involved.  A new relationship may be the furthest thing from your mind when you are going through a divorce, but it is very likely this development awaits somewhere on the not too distant horizon. 

Consider FinancesI mentioned finances as one of the benefits of nesting.  Overall housing costs may be kept down by having one larger home to share the children and having the second smaller living spouse for the off duty parent.  Sharing finances may result in some savings but it also can keep spouses more dependent on one another during a time when you are looking for independence.  Nesting causes delay in financially moving on.  There will be the natural adjustment to life after separation even with the ongoing nesting arrangement, and then there will be a whole other adjustment that takes place at the conclusion of the nesting period.  Do you want to have another transition on the horizon?  Maybe this isn’t an issue for you, but it certainly is something to consider as you explore the nesting option.

I have seen nesting work for couples.  It can provide added stability to the children as they come to terms with the separation of their parents.  It can allow children to remain in close proximity to their friends and school and minimize disruption to their routines.  It can help soften the financial blow of moving from needing to maintain one home to two.  It can also ease the couple into their new way of life after divorce.  When considering moving forward with a nesting arrangement, just be sure to consider and plan for the challenges arising from remaining entangled, privacy concerns, new relationships, and financial adjustments.  Finally, plan for transitioning when the nesting arrangement is no longer best for you or the children.