Separation is never an easy process, especially when children are involved. Many options and services are available to separated parents. In this article, we look at one parenting arrangement often considered by newly separated families – bird nesting.
The word about the bird
‘Bird nesting’ or ‘bird nest parenting’ is a parenting plan where the children remain in one home and the parents take turns at living in the home with the children.
Essentially, parents take on the burden of moving from house to house, packing up their personal belongings, taking everything they need with them and travelling back or forth. Generally, parents will agree a set parenting plan, such as a week on and week off. This arrangement allows the children to remain in their bedrooms, in their home and to maintain much of the same routine that existed prior to their parents’ separation.
Parents may choose bird nesting for a variety of reasons.
One key is reason why families try bird nesting is because it’s important to put children's needs first, especially through periods of change. This plan allows children time to transition into seeing only one parent at a time, while still staying in their usual home. It also removes the stress that can be placed on children when they have to constantly pack up their belongings and move from house to house.
Bird nesting can be a good option for accommodation reasons. Parents may be able to stay with supportive friends or family for short periods of time or perhaps have accommodation options through work, so this style of parenting may work well for them.
In other situations, the parents may not be in a position to establish two homes. This could be for financial reasons or because there is a shortage of houses available to rent or buy in the area.
When it works
Bird nesting arrangements often work in the short term, while parents transition through their separation, work through their relationship property matters and re-order their financial arrangements.
It can be a really good option for parents who want to minimise disruption or instability for their children during this period of transition. However, there are examples of parents who make bird nesting work for them longer term whether for financial, lifestyle or parenting reasons.
When it doesn’t
Bird nesting tends to work well for the short to medium term, however it is not a common longer-term option for most families.
As parents move on and develop new relationships, bird nesting type arrangements may need to be reconsidered.
While bird nesting can be a good option for children, it does take considerable commitment, trust and organisation from parents. It may not be suitable if parents are unable to co-operate, or where relationships are particularly strained.
To make bird nesting work, parents need to cooperate and have good ground rules.
Here are some of the things we recommend thinking about before starting a bird nesting arrangement:
- How will household bills be divided and paid?
- How will costs associated with caring for children be divided and paid?
- Who will sleep in which bedroom?
- How will household chores be divided up?
- How will you communicate if there are any issues relating to the property and how will these be paid for?
- How will you make arrangements for food shopping and who is responsible for payment?
- Are new partners welcome to visit the family home?
- How will you create plans and allow for changes to the plans?
- How will you resolve any disputes?
Bird nesting stories
Our team of mediators work with parents and caregivers around the country. Here are some real-life examples of bird nesting parenting plans.
Mary and Mark
Mary and Mark* have three children and live on the North Shore in Auckland. They have a large house with an equally large mortgage. They both have professional occupations and work extended hours. Neither parent could afford to pay rent on top of their mortgage and existing household commitments. Bird nesting made sense for them as they both have alternate accommodation available for them (Mary with family and Mark with a friend). They are also fortunate that each of them can have the exclusive use of a bedroom at their North Shore house.
Mary was able to rearrange her work commitments, allowing her to work for longer hours in the week when she does not have the care of the children and Mark works from home a lot, so a bird nesting arrangement worked for them. They agreed that neither would enter the bedroom of the other during the week they were not at the house. Mary put a lock on her door, which Mark felt was an inconvenience as it it prevented access to the en-suite bathroom for Mark and the children.
They agreed to changeovers occurring on Sunday night and also that they would have dinner together as a family that night which was an opportunity for the children to see their parents together and so Mary and Mark could share information about activities for the children. Both parents agreed that they would do the shopping for the week they cared for the children and paid half for someone to come in and do cleaning each Monday so neither had to worry about the state the house was in.
This arrangement worked well because the parents had an amicable separation and were able to communicate easily about the children. The parents came to mediation a year after separation, not because they were in dispute about the arrangement but because they needed to discuss how they could maintain the children in the family home and allow Mark to buy a flat using some of the equity from the family home.
Bob and Sally
Bob and Sally* came to mediation as neither wanted to leave the family home even though they knew separation was inevitable. They lived in a small rural town and accommodation was difficult. Neither had the financial means to set up another house for themselves and the children. They were worried about stress for the children in the family home.
A friend offered them a flat which was very basic and not suitable for the children. Sally was not happy about the idea of living in the flat even for short periods of time as she did not feel safe. Sally was also the primary carer of the children and did not work outside of the home. She was devastated about the prospect of separation and what that might mean for her.
They eventually agreed that Bob would take the flat. Bob would have care of the children every second weekend and he would come to the house every Wednesday to cook dinner for the children and spend time with them. Sally agreed that she would vacate the house every second weekend and also on Wednesday nights, returning at 9.30pm when the children were in bed.
This arrangement was reviewed after six months and both parents agreed it was working well for them and the children. Sally had taken the opportunity to enrol in a course and was looking forward to going back into employment. She was able to stay with her sister in the city about 30kms away. She began to enjoy her weekends to herself and felt she was a more confident person and parent. Mark appreciated the time he had with the children especially being able to give them baths and put them to bed. He said he had struggled with the less than adequate accommodation when he was not in the home but also agreed that financially the free flat made the most sense.
Both agreed the children were benefitting from remaining in the home with their routine. Although there had been quite a lot of tears from their daughter when Sally left every second Friday, both agreed they had been able to support her and that she had come to terms with the arrangement. They agreed to continue with the arrangements and review it again in another six months.
* Names changed to maintain confidentiality
Family Dispute Resolution
If you are considering bird nesting or any other parenting arrangement, Family Dispute Resolution is a mediation service that is free for many families and is a great place discuss if this would work for your family.
FairWay’s mediators assist thousands of families each year to reach care of children agreements that place the needs of the children at the centre of their plan.
To find out more about Family Dispute Resolution please click here or call us on 0800 77 44 20.