Although children can recover from their parents’ divorce, it remains a potentially traumatic event. Parents know this, and so, of course, they will seek to minimize the effects of the breakdown of their marriage on their children.
One of the latest strategies parents are using to manage the difficult transition during a divorce is called nesting.
Nesting is when the children remain in the family home and the parents alternate moving in and out, depending on the custody agreement. Rather than in a traditional arrangement, where the children are required to move between two homes and two sets of toys, this practice allows everything material to stay stable and predictable for the kids. It’s the grown-ups who must adapt.
But parents need to be aware of the many hiccups that can occur when trying to nest during and after a divorce. Not only are there emotional issues, but there are also serious financial considerations. California family-law specialist Peter Walzer advises parents to think very carefully about all post-separation arrangements and how they can impact both sides financially.
“It’s important to think about the legal consequences of a nesting agreement,” he said. “In some states, the parties may not be deemed to be separated if they are nesting. This could impact the property division and their support orders. Alimony may not be deductible if they are considered to be sharing a home, and there may be tax consequences relating to the sale of the home.”
Anne P. Mitchell, a lawyer and fathers’-rights activist, said that as her own marriage broke down, she asked her husband to stay in the house and sleep in a different room.
“Children need both parents. Many divorcing spouses just want that other person out of their lives,” she said. “But that is not how it works when you have children; the other parent will always be in your life in some fashion, you will have to interact with them one way or another at least until they turn 18.”
But Laura England, a psychotherapist based in Ottawa, has some reservations about nesting as a trend. She outlines two key areas parents need to pay attention to during a separation: attachment and “the grief process.” She believes the consistency that nesting fans advocate is not necessarily based on environment, but instead on the attachment the child has to the parent.
“We are wired for struggle, and in those moments reaching out to loved ones who support us and validate us is what creates resilience — not the physical environment in which we live,” she said.
England warns that grief is a natural process and children will need to work through it rather than avoid it.
“I am hesitant about the intention of nesting if it is used as a way to disguise or control the natural normal feelings of grief, such as loss, sadness and anger, that come with a divorce,” she said. “Nesting may get in the way of the couple’s ability to grieve and move on, which would also be unhealthy for a child to witness.”