Nesting During Divorce (and Sometimes After)


What is Nesting?

As birds take turns coming to and leaving their nest to care for their nestlings, some divorcing parents choose to maintain their family home for their children to live in while they take turns moving in and out of it. The children stay in the nest and the parents live elsewhere, either in a shared space outside of the family home or in separate places. In nesting, parents take the “hit,” at least initially, of the physical impact of their separation.  They take turns switching between living spaces rather than adding that upheaval to their children’s lives.

When parents “nest” like this they typically do so during a transition time rather than long-term. That transition time can be one month or two or even a year and a half though most families that nest do so for short periods of time. There is no formal or externally-imposed limit on how long parents can or should nest. Whether it works for a family and what each particular family’s needs are determine if and for how long a family nests.

Divorce Experts have Opposing Opinions on Nesting

Experts are strongly divided on the matter of whether or not nesting is a good idea, largely because the jury is out regarding whether it truly benefits children  .  While it is beneficial for the children in these families not to have to switch homes, it can be both comforting to the children, because they are in the same room as they were in pre-family separation, and confusing.  Not having to cart personal belongings between homes or to get used to a second home are clear benefits of nesting.  No aspect of divorce is one-size-fits-all, though, and nesting even more so than other divorce details.  As different divorce agreements work for different families, different ways to nest will or will not work for different families.

Nesting Works Well for a Minority of Couples

Nesting works well for a minority of families. It can provide a beneficial way to transition to living separately from one’s spouse.  If you are divorcing amicably and need time to determine where else it is best for one or both of you to live, it is super important for you to keep your children in the marital home, or finances require that one or both of you sleep on a friend’s couch for a while, it is worth considering.

At times, divorcing parents make quick decisions about who should move out and where whomever is moving out moves to. Impulsive decisions often back-fire financially, emotionally, and pragmatically. Nesting often provides an opportunity to adequately think through these big decisions.  Some experts believe that nesting works best for folks who are sharing custody of their children near 50-50.  However, it can also work well in families where one parent lives out of town and that parent comes in for the weekends or for other less frequent chunks of time.

Regardless of the parenting time split, nesting absolutely works best with parents that can communicate well and with little tension, who are able to prioritize their children’s needs over their own, and who have no major axe to grind with each other.

Nesting Does Not Work Well for Most CouplesNesting will not work for couples who have significant conflict.  It also will not work for people who can not conceive of continuing to share space with their children’s other parent.  This is not a living situation to try on if you have any significant doubts about it.  Some divorce professionals believe that nesting should never be considered.

Questions to Ask Yourself to Determine if Nesting is a Good Option for Your Family:

1. If you contemplate nesting, where would you sleep when in the original marital home and where would your soon to be “ex” sleep?

2. Can you take turns sleeping in the same bedroom that you had slept in together while married?

3. If not, is there another space in your home where you can sleep?

4. Do you believe that your children’s other parent is capable of managing a nesting arrangement?

5. How do you think that nesting will impact how you handle conflict with your children’s other parent? (One concern about nesting is that parents have less private space to work out their own emotions about divorce and therefore that nesting, with some parents, can more inherently breed a conflict playground.)

Will your children be more confused or more comforted by such an arrangement? You and your partner know your children better than anyone else.  Word amongst divorce professionals is that younger children will benefit more from a nesting arrangement than older children. How old are your children? What are their personality styles, i.e. how do they react to change, what boundaries do they need?

Divorce Professionals understand nesting pros and cons.  There are many resources -- online, in-person or via HIPPA compliant videoconferencing , to help you think through whether nesting might work for you. Whether nesting will work for you is a very personal decision, for you and your partner.  Having even one or two sessions with a mental health professional or certified divorce coach that is well-versed in divorce, and nesting in particular, will provide you with a chance to process what the best way is for you and your partner to move forward and separate.

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Dr. Joyce, Divorce Consultant, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Divorce Coach, Collaborative Divorce Facilitator, and Child Custody Evaluator.  She enjoys presenting on all of these topics and is currently writing a Book entitled Move Out, Move On, Move in: Creating a New Family After Divorce.  With compassion and useful information she supports people in all phases of divorce; find her online at