Bird’s Nest

Dear Carolyn,

I just read about something that might work in my upcoming separation and divorce. I have two children who are ages eight and ten. We have to sell the marital residence for my husband and me to each buy separate residences. Therefore, we have to live together, I suppose,  which is frustrating until we can sell the residence. The residence has been on the market and that we aren’t having a lot of lookers. I just heard about a “bird’s nest.” I am wondering what this is and would it work for us. My husband and I both have parents that live nearby with bedrooms each of us could use until our house sells. Can you explain this further?

Carolyn Answers:

A “bird’s nest” is a child custody arrangement that allows the child or children to remain in the family home. The divorcing parents take turns moving in and out of the marital residence, much like birds perching awhile and then departing the “nest.” When a parent is not at the marital residence with the children, the parent lives in a separate dwelling. That dwelling could be an apartment that each parent rotates in and out, or two separate residences, which can get quite expensive — a definite negative. The arrangement generally works better as a temporary arrangement. For example, it sometimes works well when the marital residence needs to be sold so that each parent can have the equity to purchase a replacement residence and there are grandparents in the geographic area that can provide a transitional room for each parent at low or no cost.

The comfort of the children, the routine of the children, and continuity are the focal points. It works best in a 50/50 arrangement where the parents are alternating weeks. From an expense point of view, the children only need one set of toys and one set of clothes.

From a legal point of view, it creates a date of separation for the two parents. In North Carolina, one cannot be separated while living under the same roof, even if the parties are trying to sell the marital residence. To have a separation, the husband and wife have to cease living together.

A bird’s nest arrangement needs to be a low-conflict divorce. A good set of clearly drafted co-parenting rules will reduce stress. For example, who will be doing the children’s laundry? Will each parent leave the other parent a full set of clean clothes at the time of the transition?

Sharing an apartment also can be touchy, if either of the former marital partners enters into a new relationship with a new partner.

The bird’s nest is novel, yet sensible and can provide a unique childhood experience with much less disruption that is normally experienced by children in a divorce.

Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…”, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions.  Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in yourcase.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…” “Ask Carolyn”will be a regular column, but not necessarily weekly.