Serving the needs of separated and divorcing families

What is Nesting?

Nesting is all about minimizing disruption for the children when their parents are separating.  The idea is based upon having the children remain in the family home while the parents rotate in and out during their custodial time. When it is mom’s time with the children, she resides in the family home with them. When it is the father’s turn with the children, he moves over to the marital home. This allows the children to have the least amount of change and with it transfer stress. The adults are the ones being shuffled between more than one residence, and not the children.

This is a novel approach that is receiving increased interest.  Parents who consider this arrangement desire to minimize the stress on the children and place the disruption upon the adults instead.   Nesting is ideal when parents are seeking a separation while they determine if they will divorce.  However, it must be stressed that nesting can either be ideal or a complete disaster.

Typically parents rent a one bedroom apartment while the children remain in the home with one parent at a time. According to the custodial arrangements, the parents then exchange places and the other parent resides in the one bedroom apartment.  The reason this is ideal during separation is so the children do not have to shuttle back and forth between homes enabling their lives to remain as stable as possible.  In addition, the financial drain on the family during the separation is significantly reduced.  Another arrangement, more common for divorcing parents, involves each adult purchasing their own personal dwelling, while the children remain in the family home. This of course provides privacy however it creates a financial strain for all but a few.

Besides the advantage of allowing the children to remain in their family home for continuity, the children do not need to carry items back and forth between households and, there is no need to purchase duplicate items or worry about leaving hockey equipment or math books behind.  The children keep their friendships, their neighbors and the majority of their life as familiar as possible.

As parents began to learn about nesting, some actually consider keeping nesting indefinitely.  Nesting is generally far too complicated for most parents, without adequate assistance from an experienced family mediator or child specialist, to help facilitate a parenting plan.  Without assistance parents may naively opt for a permanent nesting arrangement. This creates the same problem that occurs while writing a parenting plan based upon current jobs, their child’s current age or other factors that tend to be temporary.  Important factors to consider regarding nesting:

NESTING DURING A TEMPORARY SEPARATION:   Nesting can be ideal for parents who are separating to work on their relationship but need to live apart.  They are not sure if they are going to divorce so this keeps the environment constant for the children while in process.  Otherwise the child must adjust to having two homes during this attempt to reconcile. If the parents do reconcile the children do not have to change residences again as they have been able to remain in their homes while their parents do the shuffling.

Even when nesting is done as part of a separation the parents need to write up clear expectations regarding parenting time, maintenance of the home, guidelines about management of the children, how expenses are paid, and expectations regarding dating, couple’s therapy and other personal matters during this temporary phase.

NESTING DURING EARLY PHASE OF A COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE:  In a non-adversarial, no court divorce, parents are able to experiment with parenting schedules.  During the early phase of a collaborative divorce this allows parents to get out from living under the same roof quickly.  This does not require that they immediately determine who will be the primary parent and remain in the marital home.    This is an ideal time to implement nesting and creates the least stress for children by avoiding shuttling them back and forth.  It may also provide a temporary arrangement that will help them smooth the transitions into a life of divorce if that is indeed the outcome of the trial separation. A child specialist will be able to help the parents’ transition from the nesting plan to a permanent plan.


  1. Nesting works best when parents plan to share joint physical custody so they are equal co-parents rotating in and out such as in one week rotations.
  2. Parents need to be able to communicate effectively while using impulse control to shield their child from conflict. They need an effective communication system so that the children are not caught in the middle.  They need to avoid being in the home at transfers when the children may get a false sense of reconciliation fantasy.
  3. Parents need to reside close to each other.
  4. The parents need to be emotionally detached enough to separate their marital relationship from their parenting relationship.
  5. The parents can reside in the family home and respect each other’s boundaries.
  6. The parents are able to duplicate discipline and household responsibilities.
  7. The parents can abide by agreements regarding the children and their schedules. Parents must be able to abide by written agreements regarding the maintenance of the home and such ground rules about financial responsibilities.
  8. For a permanent nesting arrangement, all the details must be included in the settlement agreement. There must also be a clear plan regarding the sale of the family home and all that is involved in that “not so small” detail.


The long term disadvantages of sharing a residence are extensive.  For example, neither parent has their own space nor any privacy.  The parents are required to communicate not just on co-parenting matters but also on home maintenance..  The number of areas to communicate upon is extensive. Neither parent can make any decisions about the residence since they are sharing it with their soon to be former spouse.

Worst of all, during a divorce parents have a difficult time seeing into the future.  For example, when they have a significant other or new spouse in the picture, nesting becomes a real problem.  Do you and your new spouse have to move every week into the “old” marital home and share the old martial bed?  Of course not!  What if there are stepchildren?  Do you leave your new spouse and the stepchildren behind to nest on alternating weeks? These changes must be considered.  The only way nesting is realistic on a permanent basis is when the family can afford all three residences- one for each parent as well as the family home for the children. 

As the number of parents considering “nesting” increases,  it is imperative that parents seek the assistance of an experienced family mediator to discuss their ideas.  Since divorce is about twenty percent legal and eighty percent emotional, it makes sense that parents may prematurely jump on the band wagon of nesting due to the emotional pain of disrupting the lives of their children.  On a temporary basis nesting may be ideal and certainly perhaps the most loving thing parents can do.  Nesting requires a very unique set of parents who are able to make the sacrifice, emotionally detached from the other parent, not angry, acting out, or being adversarial towards the soon to be “ex” and both parents are unusually mature and child focused.

Susan Boyan, LMFT

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00