Divorce doesn’t happen overnight. Couples may spend years evolving in separate directions, building resentment in bits so small that they don’t seem to matter until they materialize into a mountain of anger or unhappiness, or both. In the off chance that marriage counseling is unsuccessful (around 97% of couples say they received the help they needed), families need to deal with the fact that their structure is changing. With the legalities required in the distribution of property, the already difficult situation becomes impossibly more complicated when children are involved. As a result, many couples who are able to separate amicably have turned to a new solution: birdnesting.
Birdnesting allows the children of divorced parents a temporary adjustment period: the family residence where the child grew up remains intact while the parents are the ones forced to rotate living conditions.
“Usually the parents have a studio apartment they share and rotate, and then keep the marital home where the children stay put,” said Sherri Sharma, partner at a matrimonial law firm in NYC.
Since divorce can be extremely confusing for children, especially those too young to understand what’s going on, birdnesting offers a way for them to become acclimated to the big changes coming down the road. Sharma stresses that the situation only be temporary, no longer than three months.
“Any longer than a period of three months of nesting risks giving your children an inaccurate message that [the parents] are working on reconciliation. All children of divorce fantasize and wish for their parents to work things out and return to being a complete family unit.”
This transitional period gives children time to process such a huge shift in their worldview: their parents are no longer together, their lives are about to be split down the middle, and they may have a tough decision to make — children at the age of 12 or older are able to speak to a judge privately regarding which parent they want to live with once the divorce is finalized and the nesting period ends.
However, birdnesting only works if both parents are on good terms; the focus needs to be on the health and happiness of the kids, not the personal interests of the divorcees. This means that any bickering, fighting, or otherwise aggressive behavior needs to be eliminated — or, at the very least, concealed.
“Regardless of how you choose to divorce, being mindful of the potential effects to your kids is crucial,” said Celeste Viciere, a licensed mental health clinician. “It’s expected that kids will have a hard time with divorce, but if you can be upfront with them about what’s happening, and allow them to ask questions and have conversations around how they feel about what’s taking place, it will help in navigating them through the situation.”