The Good, Bad and Ugly Sides of Nesting During Divorce

By Christine Powers Leatherberry

Divorce can be very stressful for children, especially early on as they adjust to the reality of their parents’ breakup. To ease the blow, some parents consider nesting, where the children remain in the marital residence after the divorce is filed, and the parents rotate in and out on a set schedule.

The good side of nesting? It helps maintain normalcy for the children

Nesting really helps smooth the transition to a post-divorce family by maintaining normalcy and the status quo for children. Their home environment doesn’t change, they get to sleep in the same bed and take a bath in the same bathtub. Plus, all of their toys are within reach.

One such Connaster Family Law client, Frank Jones,* experienced the ups and downs of nesting firsthand.

“The big pro to nesting in our case was my son was able to stay in his own room, and we could go play ball in the backyard like we always had. He didn’t have to pack a backpack and shuffle back and forth between two households. Essentially, he could continue on with his life in the same place he had always called home,” Frank says.

Not sure how to tell your children you’re getting divorced? Get some excellent insight here: Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced

Also good: Nesting can simplify finances and help parents save money

Along with easing the blow for children, nesting does offer other benefits. It gives the parties more time to decide who will live in the marital residence long-term, if either party wants to.

In addition, if the parties live with parents or another family member when it isn’t their turn to live in the marital residence, they may be able to save money. Nesting can simplify finances, too, because the parties likely will continue to pay the same bills – mortgage, utilities, etc. – as they did in the past.

So, nesting can work well for some families during the early stages of divorce, but it isn’t a workable solution for most people in the long-term. Frank and his ex-wife nested for nearly a year and a half, and by the end, they were both ready to move on.

The bad and ugly side of nesting? Painful memories, house cleaning disputes, life in limbo and privacy concerns

Most family law clients who have agreed to a nesting arrangement do so for the sake of their children, but they find it can be personally challenging and stressful over the long-term.

Memories

… From the outset, living in the marital residence was never comfortable for Frank, because his ex had an affair in the home.

As he explains, “During my time in the house, I wanted to create normalcy for my son and do what I had to do to get custody. Unfortunately, many painful memories lingered there due to the affair. I wanted to distance myself, but every time I walked through the door I kept reliving those memories.”

Life in limbo

… Many parents also feel unsettled because their possessions move between two places and they never know in what state they will find the house when it’s their turn to move back in.

According to Frank, “If you leave anything behind at the house, you may not have access to it until you return. I eventually moved all of my personal items to my parents’ home and packed a backpack with essentials when it was my time to stay at the house. With nesting, if almost feels like you’re in limbo and traveling all the time, but you have to plan and reinvent yourself.”

Housekeeping nightmares

… Cleanliness is one of the biggest issues our clients argue about with the other parent. We often see emails about the house being filthy, high chairs not being cleaned, toys are not put away, dirty laundry that hasn’t been washed. Divorce is stressful, tensions are high and some people deliberately try to sabotage and annoy the other party.

Keeping the refrigerator stocked was another challenge for Frank. “I finally realized that it was best to pick up my son and head straight to the grocery store so we knew what we’d be having for dinner,” Frank says.

Private information compromised

… We always caution clients to take steps to ensure the other party won’t have access to any confidential or privileged information from attorneys or any consultants working on their case. The best thing to do is remove any shared computers from the home and set up separate email and cloud accounts.

For more insight on keeping private communications secure, check out this recent post: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Technology During Divorce and Child Custody Disputes

Somebody’s watching you

… Moving in and out of a shared home can also put parties at risk for being spied upon. Recording devices and video cameras could be installed in the home. We’ve even had clients who found GPS tracking devices mounted on shared vehicles.

Is nesting right for you? Short and sweet is usually best

Clients often ask us what the optimum period of time is for a nesting arrangement. The answer? The shortest period of time possible. Nesting really can work well from the time the divorce is filed until the temporary orders hearing is held – if there is one – and even up to a month or two.

It’s when couples get to that three-month mark and beyond when nesting can become a nightmare for parents. The best option is for the parties to start living separate lives as soon as they are financially able to do so.

The sooner the parents start acting like they are divorced, the sooner the kids will become accustomed to the idea. (Check out this recent post for information on smoothing the transition for children: 5 Valuable Resources to Help Kids Cope When Parents Split.)

While Frank doesn’t regret the early days of nesting, he knew his son would need to face the reality of the divorce eventually.

As he explains, “At some point the child’s life will change, there is no soft landing. When the house was sold, my son ended up bouncing between my parents’ house and my ex’s house. It was a strange transition for him, and kids do take the brunt of it. But now there’s a new normal, and he’s adjusted well.”

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. She is a past chair of the Dallas Junior Board of the Big Brothers Big Sisters and was a Big Sister to the same Little for 11 years. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

* Client’s name and minor details have been changed.

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