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The pros and cons of 'bird's nest' custody arrangements

It's no secret that divorce or parental separation can leave some pretty deep emotional scars. This is what keeps most parents up at night when considering a divorce or separation. Not only do kids feel like they have to choose between parents, but they also need to adjust to living in two separate homes.

A new phenomenon in family law seeks to change this dynamic. "Bird's nest" custody arrangements, or nesting, has become increasingly popular among separating parents. But what is it, and does it work?

How nesting custody arrangements work

Traditionally, parents would share legal custody of their kids, but children would live primarily with one parent. The other parent would be granted regular visitation rights. Children would need to be shuttled from one home to the other as the parenting schedule dictated.

In a nesting arrangement, parents take on that mobile role. Children stay within the family home, and parents take turns moving in and out according to their parenting plan. When not living with the kids, parents live in their own separate home or apartment.

The pros

Nesting takes the stress of being shuttled back and forth between parents out of the custody equation. By living in their own home, children stay in a familiar place, among their own toys, furniture and belongings. There also won't be any distraught meltdowns over forgetting homework or a favorite blanket at Dad or Mom's house.

Nesting also allows children to maintain most of their accustomed routines when it comes to school, extra-curricular activities and playing with nearby friends. Research shows that keeping up regular habits and routines helps kids cope with the divorce process. This is exactly the kind of stability that nesting provides.

The cons

Obviously, nesting arrangements are only successful if parents can work together. Differences in parenting styles, living habits and general lifestyle can all derail a nesting arrangement. So can the presence of a new partner. Parents need to set firm ground rules and stick to them, or establish a process for how to discuss changes to the home environment. For some parents who are separating, this level of cooperation is just not possible.

It also requires parents to maintain separate residences that are relatively close by. This can get expensive for parents who suddenly find themselves living on a single salary. Also, if one parent frequently travels for work or is thinking about relocating entirely, nesting will not work. In such cases, a more traditional custody arrangement may be the right solution.

Will it work for my family?

As hinted at above, nesting may be an option for some families, but not for others. As with most custody issues, the best solution will depend on your family's needs. Nesting is one option among several. A skilled family law attorney can help you find a solution that fits both your needs and the requirements of Texas law.

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