August 16, 2023
Family Law Partner and Family Mediator Denise Head considers the future for the “birdnesting” approach to co-parenting and why it is something every parent should seriously consider if they believe in “putting the children first” post-divorce.
I have been reading about the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie who are divorcing after 18 years of marriage. Relationship break-ups are always sad but especially so when children are involved, and the family is living in the public eye. However, as a family lawyer, I admire the couple and, in particular, for how they have highlighted a lesser-known co-parenting concept in the UK, that of “birdnesting”. The essence of this approach is that children stay in the family home, whilst the parents take turns to move in and out.
The Canadian media has reported that the three Trudeau children will continue to live with their father while their mother lives nearby, moving back as required to be the primary parent on the frequent occasions when the prime minister is away.
I would like to believe that this approach is set to become more common in the UK as there is plenty of evidence that it reduces trauma for the children involved and, because it is a collaborative arrangement, it can be less stressful and more cost-effective for the parents.
The main benefits are that the children get to stay in the family home, remain in the same schools and continue to enjoy their already established friendship groups. Instead of the children packing a bag every second weekend, or whatever shared residence arrangements have been agreed to spend time with the non-resident parent, “birdnesting” means it is the adults who do the packing and the house swapping. The children feel more secure, enjoying the stability and continuity of having one’s own space but also, the focus of each individual parent and their separate lives.
There are of course some cons to any post-divorce living arrangement. Whilst many divorced couples thrive from the emotional value of a clean financial break, “nesting” requires the commitment from both parents to continue with a joint financial relationship to maintain the children’s home and its costs. Other negatives include the challenges of when the parents enter in to other relationships; their new partners have to equally embrace the approach. There are also privacy issues in that the family home will be used by both parents. It only works if there is a high degree of collaboration and compromise and, to endure long term, a clear and detailed agreement setting out ground rules and key responsibilities, both practical and financial. There must be a high degree of mutual respect and the final ingredient, so often missing in more acrimonious splits, a commitment to communicate.
The potential value of such successful co-parenting is so obvious when we attend weddings, graduation ceremonies and other family celebrations, where divorced parents are equally at ease and the centre of their mutual pride and joy is their children’s happiness and success.
If you and your partner are considering separation but want to prioritise the well-being of your children, then “birdnesting” might be a viable approach. If I can help you work through the issues involved and develop a workable plan, please get in touch. Like the Trudeaus, you too can ensure that you are the best parent you can be and make sure that your little ones leave the nest when they ready and not before.