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What is nesting, and can it work for us?

Picture of a nest and eggs

Recently, we have seen an increase in parents willing to try an arrangement called “nesting.” This is a joint physical custody arrangement. The parents rotate in and out of the children’s home according to a schedule rather than shuffling the children between homes. In the most common variant, the parents take turns residing in the former marital residence with the children, usually during a week-on, week-off schedule. The off-duty parent resides in an apartment that both parties lease, and for which both share the expenses. Alternatively, the off-duty parent might reside with his or her parents or other family members. In rare circumstances, each parent might have his or her own apartment.


Nesting has its advantages. The children maintain a stable routine in familiar surroundings. The parents do not have to purchase additional clothing, toys, furniture, and housewares. The on-duty parent is responsible for helping the children maintain their routine – homework, after-school activities, meals, hygiene, and bedtimes. Time and resources are not invested in transporting the children and their belongings between homes. The children cannot refuse to spend time with a parent.


But parents who try nesting have unique challenges to overcome. One is that neither parent may feel that s/he has privacy in either home. Most exes do not want their former spouse snooping through their belongings or sleeping in their bed. If the house and apartment are large enough, perhaps each can have a separate room that remains locked when that person is not in the residence.

Can both of you feel settled when you are constantly moving between houses? For some people, living in two homes poses no difficulty at all. For others, it can feel disruptive and disorienting.

What about cleaning? Is each person responsible for cleaning the living space before s/he vacates it for the week? What if your ex is not as tidy or organized as you prefer? Who is responsible for obtaining groceries and stocking supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning agents? Which one of you will do the laundry for the children? Where will you do your own laundry? How will you share responsibility for yard work and maintenance on the house? What happens when one or both spouses develop new romantic relationships? How will transitions be handled? ┬áIn one recent case, the exes had dinner as a family during transition days. They used the time to bring each other up to speed on the children’s activities and needs.

Nesting can work for couples who harbor little resentment and animosity toward each other after their separation. Even then it requires patience, perseverance, and an ability to communicate. Hiccups in the arrangement are inevitable. Mediation is a great place to address the questions above, as well as to plan for how you will handle those hiccups when they occur.

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