Birdnesting: a modern solution to co-parenting a SEND child?

Managing Director Rita Gupta explores the potential benefits of ‘birdnesting’ for separating parents with a SEND child.

Co-parenting a SEND child after divorce or separation can be a major logistical challenge as well as an emotional one. Many couples may consider their only option is for one parent to live in the family home and be the resident parent, whilst the other absent parent moves out into separate accommodation.

However, separating couples with children (SEND or otherwise) are increasingly turning to a different arrangement - birdnesting (aka bird-nesting or birds-nest co-parenting).

Birdnesting is when co-parents maintain both the family home and a second house or flat, so they can rotate being the resident parent. When one is in the family home, the other stays in the second property.


Birdnesting – a workable solution?

Birdnesting is not a new idea; Swedish examples date back to the 1970s. A 2016 survey suggested that in the UK, over 10% of divorced and separated parents had actually tried birdnesting.

In addition:

“52% felt that keeping their children in the family home and rotating their living arrangements around them would have caused their kids less upset and upheaval.“

However, birdnesting is not going to be suitable for everyone.

  • It is clearly not appropriate in cases involving domestic abuse / coercive behaviours.
  • There may be existing tensions in the relationship that would need to be dealt with beforehand, as both parties would have to get along and make important decisions together.
  • There would also be considerable financial ramifications to be identified and sorted, especially with a second property involved. Parents could therefore remain financially co-dependent for longer.
  • Birdnesting may affect ex-partner payments such as child maintenance and spousal support, although it may also save on costs for setting up two homes. (more on this below).

If you are considering birdnesting, we would advise consulting a family lawyer before suggesting it to your partner. You will need to understand both the practical and legal implications so you can come to an informed decision. Contact us for your reduced fee initial consultation with LGFL.


Birdnesting: short term or long term?

As the following examples show, many couples took the view that birdnesting would be a temporary arrangement so they could see how it worked out (or not).

Their real-life experiences may in turn help couples struggling with the logistics of co-caring for a SEND child to view birdnesting as a short-term potential solution to try out, rather than as a life-long decision.

SEND children and the family home: familiar and safe

For most children, their family home is far more than just a place to live. According to an article at This Is Money:

“It can resemble a place of safety, familiarity, and comfort. You can maintain stability for the children and ensure both parents continue to be involved in their life – preserving the status quo. There are practical benefits in the sense that parents have established routines within the family home which they can continue to implement.”

As an alternative to the more usual 50/50 parenting, when the children move from one home to another, birdnesting has clear logistical and emotional advantages for SEND children. They remain in familiar surroundings with all they require in place, from medical and mobility equipment to the correct food in the fridge. There is no need for parents to duplicate equipment, items and medication in both homes, which could be both costly and impractical.

Furthermore, birdnesting with an existing home keeps the SEND child within their current support network, including their:

  • School catchment area
  • Circle of friends and social activities
  • Local authority health team

Again, this ensures continuity of care, education, social support, and funding at a point where there is much emotional and practical upheaval to deal with.


Same home, separate lives

If finances do not allow for a separate property, some couples choose to have designated rooms in the family home which are for their sole use when not being the ‘on duty’ parent.

This could be particularly beneficial for SEN children, as an article at 2Houses website suggests:

“If your child needs significant help from both of you, a bird-nesting arrangement can work … You can also arrange to have both co-parents stay in the same home but in different parts of the house. This provides maximum continuity for a child with autism.”


Birdnesting and co-operation

Birdnesting requires a high level of cooperation and communication between separating parents, to ensure the arrangement works for everyone. As a Tatler article explained:

“It requires honesty, transparency, and mutual goodwill with open communication and agreed boundaries between both parents. There needs to be clarity over contact arrangements for the children and financial arrangements, to include division of household expenses, upkeep of the property, and in what circumstances the home should be sold.”


Birdnesting: an evolving balance

In an article for Yahoo News, mother of three Farhana Hussain described her own take on birdnesting after trying other arrangements:

“It was very quickly obvious that (50/50) wasn’t going to work, as the boys were really upset with being with their dad. After a month, we adjusted it to every weekend and that didn’t work either. At the weekends, the kids wanted to be at home where their friends were. After six months (we) settled on (me) having the kids 100 per cent of the time but with their father regularly visiting and staying over.”


A new home just for the kids

In an article for the Huffington Post, divorced dad Toby Hazlewood shared his own solution to the issue of co-parenting beyond “the odd fun weekend as the estranged dad.” As his girls grew up, and he and his ex both had new partners, they needed a better solution than 50/50 custody

The solution for them was what he describes as “extreme co-parenting”!

“My ex-wife and I now rent a single apartment, splitting the costs between us.

The girls live there permanently, and a third bedroom is equipped like a hotel-room into which their mum and I alternate, one week at a time.

On a Monday morning she packs away her possessions, strips the bed and moves out. I arrive on a Monday evening and move in for the week, as live-in custodial parent for the next seven nights.”

It’s an interesting idea, especially if the new home can be adapted specifically for the changing needs of a SEN child.


Birdnesting and professional help

In her book “Nesting After Divorce: Co-Parenting in the Family Home”, author Beth Behrendt described how professional help and advice can be invaluable.

“A supportive “team” was essential in establishing our nesting situation, and in helping it run smoothly for so many years … The efforts of the legal and financial experts were what established a strong frame on which we built our co-parenting arrangement.

My ex and I were fortunate to find divorce lawyers and financial advisers who supported our idea to nest and helped us achieve our goals without causing irreparable damage to either of our financial situations.”


Reviewing the arrangements

SEND children may need stability, but their needs can and will change over time. The same also applies to their parents. In a Metro article, a family mediator suggests asking key questions to review the birdnesting arrangements:

“Is it still working for both of you? Is it working for your children? What do they like about it? What do they feel could work better for them?

Having these conversations calmly, constructively and compassionately means you can check that everybody is OK with how things are working and make changes to address any issues.”


Need to talk about separating or divorcing with a SEND child or children?

Contact us to book an initial reduced fee consultation at LGFL. We have helped numerous parents with SEND children separate and put in place the agreements and finances that secure their child’s future.

- Call us

- Email us

- Request your initial appointment online