Divorce is a hard process and perhaps nobody knows this better than the children of divorced parents, who can find themselves caught up in a situation over which they have little control facing an uncertain future. Whilst their emotional lives may be going through turmoil, they also have to contend with the idea that their everyday lives will change, whether that is not seeing one of their parents on a daily basis or moving to a different house or location. Historically there was usually a set plan regarding child custody. In the absence of any glaring reason not to, the mother was granted custodial custody of the children with the father being granted visiting rights. Fathers would see their children every weekend or every other weekend and perhaps for some time during the holidays. In the last decade or so there has been a much bigger shift to a shared custodial arrangement whereby the children spend almost equal time with each parent (or a substantial amount of time with the “non-custodial parent”), moving between their homes. There were many reasons for this shift including fathers being more involved in childrearing and research showing that the involvement of two parents had psychological benefits for the child. As divorce levels rise, people are becoming a lot more innovative about custodial arrangements
When Daria and David finally decided that their marriage was over they were determined that their divorce would have as little negative disruption on their children as possible. Daria and David decided to give “nesting” a try. Nesting is a relatively new and creative idea in the arena of child custody arrangements. It is called nesting because the children stay in the home while the parents are the ones who leave and return, similar to parent birds who come and go from the nest leaving the baby birds in situ. The concept is based on the idea of shared custody. Shared custody has the advantage that both parents continue to have a close bond with their children and are involved in their everyday lives, but it has a disadvantage of a disruptive effect on the children’s living arrangements as the children shuttle between their parents’ homes. The idea of nesting is that the children stay put in the marital home ensuring their security while it is the parents moving in and out of the house when it is their time with the children.
Daria and David decided on a week each with the handover day being on Sunday. They rented a small flat near their house which the parent without the children would stay in. Daria explained, “We wanted stability for our children in a difficult time. We didn’t want the children to have to constantly pack themselves up. As it was our decision to divorce we felt that we should take the brunt of the moving about”. David added that financially they didn’t have enough money to keep their home and buy a second one which would be suitable for the children, sustaining one household and a small apartment was a lot cheaper.
The advantages for the children mean that they have a feeling of permanence, their environment does not change and they don’t have to remember all their belongings and books each time they move. The sense of routine can be extremely helpful to the children at a time of change and turbulence. It can be great for the children to see their parents co-operating for their sake, and ultimately the children benefit by maintaining a close relationship with both parents in a familiar environment. For the parents, the financial aspects may also be attractive.
However there are downsides in the nesting process. Children may find it hard to accept the end of their parents’ marriage where there is such close co-operation. It also takes a huge effort on the part of the parents to make this arrangement work. Grocery shopping and household chores can be flash points. Where the parents are constantly arguing this arrangement can be more damaging then shared custody where there is little contact between he parents. The lack of privacy can also be an issue, and where one or both of the parents finds a new partner this can make the arrangement impractical . Nesting only works where there is full co-operation between the parents. Many times couples start off wanting an amicable divorce but animosity can set in when the financial settlement is discussed which can make the nesting process difficult, even unsustainable. In any event nesting is usually for a specified time and there needs to be an agreed arrangement in place for when the nesting ends.
Daria and David worked very hard at making nesting work for their family and, although they hit many bumps along the way, they continued the arrangement for 18 months until David found a new partner. At this point they moved to a traditional shared custody arrangement with the children moving between two homes. Both David and Daria agree that although the nesting period was limited and hard, they feel that it has greatly benefitted their children as it provided them with a haven at a time of great uncertainty and change in their lives. Both parents felt that two years post-separation the children were in a better place emotionally to deal with moving between their homes. Daria added that she felt that having been through the frustrations of moving between two homes, she now understood the challenges of moving between homes. "Parents should walk in their kids' shoes," said Joseph S. Mattina a previous New York State Supreme Court justice, who once ordered nesting, with the consent of both parents, because he thought it was important for parents to understand the dislocation that kids often go through in divorce.
Nesting is an idea which takes a lot of co-operation and although there have been rare court ordered nesting arrangements (in the US and Canada) it is mainly thought of as a custody arrangement that would have to be with the consent of both parents. Despite nesting still being an atypical arrangement, as collaborative divorces and mediated divorces come up with more creative child custody arrangements, there has been a lot more interest in the idea of nesting in the immediate period post-divorce. Nesting is certainly not for all couples as it requires a large amount of give and take at a very turbulent time, but for those who can, it definitely appears to be an option , albeit for a specific period of time, that could lend a sense of security to their children during a very uncertain time.
(names and details have been changed)
Hadassah Fidler LLB qualified as a lawyer in the UK and then retrained as a licensed mediator both in England and in Israel. She currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel, where she has a mediation practice specialising in mediation for English speakers.