If you are preparing for a divorce and you have children from your marriage, you will need to establish a custody arrangement or parenting plan as part of the divorce process. While there are a variety of options, divorcing parents ultimately need to choose the one option that will best serve their children’s interests after their divorce.

The options for establishing custody during a divorce can be viewed on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is a sole custody arrangement where only one parent has the ability to spend time with his or her children. More traditional custody arrangements involving split custody and visitation schedules fall somewhere in the middle. Then, on the other end of the spectrum is bird’s nest custody.

What is Bird’s Nest Custody?

Bird’s nest custody is a unique form of custody that has become more popular in recent years. With that said, it is still relatively uncommon, and it only makes sense in very specific scenarios.

Bird’s nest custody is a form of co-parenting. With co-parenting, divorced parents continue to jointly play a role in their children’s lives after their marriage is over. Rather than living completely separate lives, divorced parents come together to spend time with and make important life decisions for their children.

However, even when divorcing spouses choose to co-parent, their children still split time between their respective homes. One home may be designated as the children’s “home base,” but spending time at both parents’ houses is still an important part of the process of coping and continuing to build on pre-existing bonds. With bird’s nest custody, this is not the case. Instead, the children live in one home full-time, and the parents split time between residences.

This means that establishing a bird’s nest custody arrangement requires three homes. Each parent has his or her own respective home, and then there is the children’s home in the middle (either literally, figuratively or both). Generally, the parents will split time staying at the children’s home, although they may also choose to spend time at the children’s home together. This could be limited to holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions; or, it could be a routine aspect of their post-divorce parenting plan.

When Is Bird’s Nest Custody an Option?

In terms of when bird’s nest custody is an option, there are two overarching considerations. One has to do with the parent’s relationship, and the other has to do with the parents’ finances:

1. The Parents Must Have a Good Working Relationship

If divorcing parents do not have a good working relationship, then bird’s nest custody simply will not be an option. With bird’s nest custody, divorced parents will interact regularly, make decisions that impact one another, and spend time living in the same home. As a result, a good threshold evaluation for determining whether bird’s nest custody might make sense is whether the parents would likely be able to co-parent successfully. We covered considerations for successful co-parenting in a previous article.

This is not to say that the parents must be able to agree on everything. However, they must be able to work together, and they must be able to make reasoned decisions with their children’s best interests in mind. Suppose divorcing parents share the same desire to put their children first, and both are open to the idea of sharing a home where their children live full-time. In that case, this is the starting point for discussing the possibility of moving forward with bird’s nest custody.

2. The Parents Must Be Able to Afford a Third Home

By definition, bird’s nest custody requires divorcing parents to be able to afford a third home. After the divorce, each parent will have their primary residence, and then they will have a third residence for their children. The parents will need to agree on the location and cost of this third residence (which could potentially be their existing family home), and they will each need to be sure that they can comfortably afford to maintain their standard of living.

What Are Some Important Considerations for Divorcing Parents Interested in Bird’s Nest Custody?

In addition to these two overarching considerations, there are a number of other important issues divorcing parents will need to address when working toward developing a bird’s nest custody arrangement. Some examples of these issues include:

  • Scheduling – Of course, one parent will need to be living at the children’s homes at all times. Parents must develop a schedule that works for them while also serving the best interests of their children.
  • Flexibility – While it is important to have a schedule, bird’s nest custody arrangements also require flexibility. This is something parents will need to address proactively and incorporate into their post-divorce parenting plan.
  • Finances – Who will pay the utility bills at the children’s primary residence? Who will take care of maintenance, furniture, décor, and other house-related expenses?
  • Responsibilities – Maintaining the third home presents additional responsibilities as well. With bird’s nest custody, it is important to define each parent’s responsibilities to avoid future disputes clearly.
  • Ground Rules – Bird’s nest custody also requires divorcing parents to establish (and stick to) a set of ground rules. Each parent should enforce the same rules while at the children’s primary residence.
  • Relationships – If one parent enters into a new relationship, how will this impact the parents’ bird’s nest custody arrangement (if at all)? Should there be rules around when (or if) a new partner or spouse is allowed to stay at the children’s primary residence?
  • Visits to the Parents’ Homes – With a bird’s nest custody arrangement, the children will undoubtedly want to visit each parent’s separate home. The timelines and parameters for these visits will need to be addressed as well.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation with a Lake County, IL Divorce Lawyer

These are just some of the issues parents need to consider when evaluating a possible bird’s nest custody arrangement. If you want to learn more, we encourage you to contact us for a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment with Lake County, IL divorce attorney Deanna J. Bowen, please call 847-623-4002 or inquire online today.