February 26, 2016

Bird’s nest custody: Will it smooth ruffled feathers?


By Kate Banerjee, partner and head of the Children Department

Touted as the smart new way to divorce by the media, ‘bird’s nest custody’ is becoming more common in the UK as rising numbers of British courts recommend shared parenting instead of sole custody for one of them.

Bird’s nest custody sees children stay in the family home, while their parents move in and out on an agreed schedule to look after them. As well as the intended benefit of reducing stress and change for the youngsters, it can also be a cheaper solution for parents who might struggle to maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle.

Here, children would remain in the family home with one parent, while the other would live in a smaller flat, removing the need to provide two bedrooms for each child – complete with toys, fixtures and furniture at each place. Parents can either swap between homes or stay with family and friends when their ex moves in.

To date, UK courts have not forced bird’s nesting onto anyone, however couples are coming across the solution via mediation, before reaching court. And with many divorcees reporting that it has also brought them closer together as they collaborate on the common goal of securing their children’s best interests, it is likely to increase in popularity.

On the surface, then, this is a promising route to a civilised family life after divorce. However, it must be borne in mind that no two couples and no two divorces are the same, so there are no one-size-fits-all options. Among the factors that may have an impact on the effectiveness of this arrangement are the ages of the children. Some may be of an age where they can accommodate this arrangement, but older children may rebel, or feel unsettled by the situation.

While it might give children a sense of security, it could also be quite confusing for them and raise false hope that their parents might get back together. As such, the arrangement would have to be explained very carefully, particularly to younger children.

And inconvenient ‘real world’ practicalities might intrude on the arrangement. The biggest problem would be trust and cooperation between couples, with the levels required to make bird’s nesting succeed quite rare. There is also the issue of cooking and shopping for your ex, when you must declare that you have lived separate and apart before decree absolute can be granted.

Difficulties and obstacles are not insurmountable, but parents would need to plan, compromise and communicate, just as in other child custody matters. Boundaries and rules must be drawn up and written down before you start.

For tips on how best to work with your ex for the sake of the children, see here and here

If you have any comments, queries or concerns on divorce related issues, leave a comment below, call the team at Jones Myers on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce.