Custody Arrangements: What is a Bird-Nesting Divorce

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Aoife Desmond is a single mum and co-parent to a teen. She and her ex-husband decided to try bird-nesting custody when they first separated. She shares her experience with Frolo.

I’d known my ex husband for almost twenty years, so when it came to separating, it felt really sad and the end of a chapter. We had grown apart and knew it was time to move forwards, forming our own new chapters. Apart.

We were in Wales on our last family holiday when the time came to really call the decision – we made a promise. We would put our daughter’s needs ahead of our own and try a bird-nesting divorce. Also called bird’s nest custody or birdnesting – we’d create a living arrangement that kept our child in the family home while we took turns living there.

We didn’t really know what bird-nesting was when we did it. We didn’t know anyone who had done it, but it felt right.

Aoife Desmond, frolo

How bird-nesting worked for us

  • We decided to rent a two bed apartment together near our family home.
  • House rules were that we respected each other’s privacy and did not enter the other’s bedroom.
  • We each left the common areas clean and tidy for the other person’s return.
  • Each week and one night mid-week to start with, we transitioned to live with our child.
  • Communication was really important. We needed to keep checking in with each other that it was working.
  • Organisation skills were needed. We used the TimeTree app to manage timelines, swaps and household topics like bills and errands (when you’re not living at home all the time in one home, it’s really easy to forget bills and expect the other has it sorted).

The benefits to our daughter were huge – no stress in packing and moving homes, she was always with her pets and neighbourhood playmates. While separation is always a sad situation, our daughter could see her needs were being put first and it meant she fully understood when it came time to move out of bird-nesting and move properly into two individual homes.

When & why bird-nesting may not work:

  • We were privileged to be in a financial situation where it could work. It is expensive to run two 2+ bedroom homes and this is not the cheapest option.
  • While not impossible for parallel parents, you do need an amicable and respectful playing field for it to work. A great deal of trust is needed in bird-nesting in ensuring your privacy is protected. It’s unlikely to work in relationships where there has been control, coercive or otherwise.
  • It does get tiring. After 2 years of bird-nesting we decided to call it a day. At that point we were each pretty exhausted from feelings of being in limbo, constant (un)packing and being unable to really move on and look to meet someone new.

Lessons learned from bird-nesting

Two years on, looking back on my experience of bird-nesting, I am happy that we managed to give our daughter two years of nesting custody.  A home bird by nature, excuse the pun, this transition period made a huge difference to our daughter’s adjustment to being the child of divorced parents. Now a teen, we can see that her experience of couples parting has not been negative. We remained respectful and she could see we always put her first as our priority  – equally.