"The children have been grand today. We had one star of the week, one with a playground injury and another with possible nits. I've fed the dog, folded the washing – all but yours, of course – and you've run out of bread. The house probably needs a Hoover. See you Wednesday".
These are not the words of a loving partner, nor a slick and well paid nanny. No – these are the words of Marie's former husband, Douglas, as he picks up his bag and heads out of the door at the end of another cycle of their "nesting" arrangement. Bird-nesting (where separated parties take it in turns to live with the children in the family home) has been the subject of much discussion in recent months, due in part to the rise in interest rates leading to families seeking creative ways to deal with the logistical and financial aftermath of relationship breakdown.
Marie's experience of bird-nesting arrived not immediately following separation, but almost two years in. Marie had remained in the family home, with the family's three children initially spending time (including overnights) in each of their respective "nests". However, one morning their eldest son (aged 9 at that stage), sat Marie down, looked her straight in the eye and calmly informed her that he was frankly fed up shifting his belongings between their respective properties. Whilst he was very clear that he loved his Dad to bits, he missed spending time with the dog and he could never find the right football card in the right home. Now, I am not for one moment suggesting that a missing Mbappè is a good reason to disrupt one's domestic arrangements, knowing I was a family lawyer (and also, handily, her good friend), Marie came to me to see what I thought. I explained to her the concept of bird-nesting.
Several months into their new arrangement, I would distil the insights I have gained from Marie and Douglas into the following considerations:
Boundaries – A nesting arrangement requires parents to communicate clearly so that appropriate boundaries can be set. Douglas does not wish to be reminded (even when Marie is in a bad mood) that the house is now hers; and she really does not want him to eat all her bread.
Communication – In a similar vein, discussions need to be had, at an early stage, about any monetary arrangements, the impact on child maintenance, grocery shopping and the requirements of cleaning/washing.
Children's views – In Scotland, of course, there is a child-centric approach to family law matters. That is not to say that the views of children should always be followed, but children need to know that they have a voice in the arrangements we make for them. However, one clear advantage of nesting over a traditional residence/contact arrangement is that it is the parents, rather than the children, who have to deal with the disruption of moving their lives between properties. This may be more important to some children than others.
It must be acknowledged, of course, that there are a plethora of circumstances in which bird-nesting would absolutely not work. It should go without saying that this would not be recommended for any family where there is a history of domestic abuse, a power imbalance or a lack of trust between the parties. However, where none of these factors are at play, bird-nesting, even as a short term solution, may well be a resourceful option and worthy of some consideration