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(No, we are not talking about Autumn Watch)
Parents going through a divorce or separation are often bombarded with legal terms: Child Arrangements Order, Parenting Plan, FHDRA, DRA to name but a few*. But what about those non-legal terms that are often used by the media like ‘unconscious coupling’ (maybe that was just Chris and Gwyneth) and ‘bird nesting’. Hannah Gumbrill-Ward, an Associate Solicitor in our Brighton team explains below what bird nesting is and how it might work for your family.
A bird nesting (or simply nesting) arrangement, is a type of agreement between separated parents where the child, or children, remain in the former family home with the parents moving between houses.
It has received its name from how birds care for their chicks; where one bird leaves the nest to search for food while the other remains caring for the offspring, with the parents then often rotating the ‘jobs’.
With non-bird parents, a nesting arrangement might look like:
For younger children in particular, a nesting arrangement can provide a period of stability while they adjust to their parents’ separation. On the downside, it might give them a false sense of hope that things will remain as they have always been and that their parents might get back together one day.
If your children are of a certain age, retaining the family home and keeping the children in it might be all important for school places. Especially in areas where competition is high and the impact of your separation would mean you both moving out of the catchment area for the school you want the children to attend.
Nesting helps keep logistics simple as the children, and all their things, remain in the same place. However, while the children might be happyier with the nesting arrangement, it might be really difficult for parents to practically deal with the logistics of constantly moving to and fro. Particularly as a nesting arrangement will necessarily involve separated parents needing to rent/buy separate homes or make arrangements to stay with friends and family during their time away from the children. If parents cannot afford to buy or rent another home, then they may end up sofa surfing.
If you don’t have a really solid co-parenting relationship, a nesting arrangement may be incredibly difficult to implement and keep going on a long-term basis. How will you deal with sharing your space with your ex every other week? What if they leave you with washing up to do? How do you deal with the financial arrangements for the family home when it is still shared? While nesting might work as a short-term solution immediately post-separation, it is difficult to see how it will work in the long term unless money is not an issue, and both parents have the funds to purchase new properties for themselves to live in while not at the former family home, and the former home is big enough to allow them to each have very separate and defined spaces.
Even with nesting arrangements, separated parents still need to actually work out when the children will be spending time with each parent, so it does not solve that potential problem.
Essentially, the benefits and downsides are going to be different for each family, so it really is a case of separated parents thinking about their children’s particular needs, and how the practicalities would work for their family.
No, you do not have to follow a nesting arrangement. In fact, there is no prescribed arrangement for how parents should organise how their children spend time with each of them following a separation. Instead, separated parents need to find the approach that works for them and their children, taking into account their circumstances.
In respect of other potential arrangements, it might be that it works best for your family for the children to live with one parent, and spend time with the other parent on alternate weekends, or for one night in the week and alternate weekends, or for extended alternate weekends (i.e. Thursday evening to Monday morning).
Or it might work for your family to have more of a shared care arrangement, where the children live with both parents and spend time with them on a roughly equal basis. Be that alternate weeks, or a 2-2-3 pattern or similar (a 2-2-3 pattern would involve the children spending time with parent A on Monday and Tuesday night, parent B on Wednesday and Thursday night, and parent A on Friday to Sunday night in week 1, and the opposite in week 2).
It is important to emphasise that it really is down to separated parents to find the arrangements that work best for their families, whether that is a nesting arrangement or an alternative.
Sometimes when parents’ separate it can be very difficult for them to have conversations about the arrangements for their children. Particularly if they are still dealing with the conflict and high emotions that often accompany the breakdown of a relationship. You may feel that a nesting arrangement is not right for you and your children, or you may feel that your ex is ignoring your requests to try this arrangement simply to be difficult. In these circumstances, separated parents should consider one of the many dispute resolution methods available to help them resolve their parental conflict, and my colleague Polly Dallyn has written an excellent piece setting out some essential guidance on this subject.
It is best for children if their parents can work together to sort out the arrangements for their care between themselves, without the need to involve the family court. In fact, there is a ‘no order’ principle that applies to child arrangements which means that the court will not make an order unless it is in the interests of the child to do so. But there are many situations where it is simply not possible for this to happen and so the family court will become involved.
You can find out more information on how the family court will decide what arrangements will be best for your family by reading my other blog post on the topic.
*A Child Arrangements Order is a court order that sets out who a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with. A Parenting Plan is a voluntary written agreement between parents that can cover all sorts of practical issues as well as parents’ intentions for the children’s futures. A FHDRA is a First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment, which is usually the first hearing in Children Act proceedings. A DRA is a Dispute Resolution Appointment which is normally the second hearing.