Letting the kids keep one home even through joint custody

For children, perhaps the hardest part of divorce is how different their lives become after the split. Not only are their parents no longer married, but they have to move to a different home. They may switch schools. If the parents have joint custody, they may bounce back and forth between two homes. They could lose friends and neighbors.

All in all, it feels like the parents’ decision to divorce uprooted everything they knew and loved in their lives. Their routines get shattered and it’s hard for them to move forward.

If you’re getting divorced, there is one option that can help you avoid this outcome. It is known as birdnesting.

How it works

The general principle works like this: You and your ex continue to own the house you owned before the divorce. The kids continue to live in it. On their end, nothing changes. They get to keep the same:

  • Rooms
  • Toys
  • Schools
  • Neighbors
  • Peer groups
  • Routines
  • Doctors

These are just a few examples, but they all point to the fact that the kids do not see their own lives change nearly as much under this arrangement. They would have retained all of these things if you two had stayed together, and now they can retain them after the divorce.

As for you and your spouse, you just set up the joint custody schedule. Then, instead of moving your children from one person’s house to the other, you both move in and out on the days that you exchange the kids. You share the house. You live there when you have the kids, and then you move out and your ex moves in when they have the kids.

The downside

There is one downside to this that sometimes makes it impossible. It gets expensive. You need to split the mortgage payments and utilities costs on the home you own, plus you both need second homes or apartments that you can live in when you do not live with the children. All told, as a couple, you end up paying for three different locations.

Some couples mitigate this cost by purchasing a second home or apartment that they also share. After all, that was an unavoidable cost when you decided to split up. Rather than having one of the second homes always empty when that parent lives with the kids, the parents share both costs and swap where they physically live.

This is hard, though, because it means you have to work closely with your ex. You see each other often and both share living spaces, just as you did when you were married.

Considering all options

Birdnesting is definitely nice for the children, even when it is hard for the adults. It shows why it’s important to think creatively about solutions and options during your divorce.

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