A dif­fer­ent way to treat the chil­dren af­ter the di­vorce

Nest­ing can ease the trauma of a breakup, but it’s not for ev­ery­one and can be ex­pen­sive for an ex-cou­ple

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - FIONA TAPP

Al­though par­ents who are di­vorc­ing can rest in know­ing chil­dren can re­cover from their par­ents’ di­vorce, it re­mains a po­ten­tially trau­matic event for chil­dren.

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, two bed­rooms, and two sets of toys, this prac­tice al­lows ev­ery­thing ma­te­rial to stay sta­ble and pre­dictable for the kids. Here, 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 se­ri­ous emo­tional is­sues, but there are also se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions. Es­pe­cially when you con­sider that the av­er­age di­vorce costs up­wards of $20,000.

Cal­i­for­nia fam­ily-law spe­cial­ist Peter Walzer, found­ing part­ner of the Los An­ge­les­based law firm Walzer Melcher, ad­vises par­ents to think very care­fully about all post­sep­a­ra­tion 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.”

For most or­di­nary fam­i­lies, com­pound­ing the high cost of ob­tain­ing a di­vorce by main­tain­ing three homes is an unattain­able fan­tasy.

Anne P. Mitchell, a lawyer, au­thor and fa­thers’-rights ac­tivist, found that her ex­pe­ri­ence of nest­ing evolved from an ini­tial at­tempt to keep the fam­ily to­gether. As her mar­riage broke down, she asked her hus­band not to leave but to stay in the house and sleep in dif­fer­ent bed­rooms.

“This worked very well, we were still able to co­par­ent very civilly, even sup­port­ively, we just weren’t hus­band and wife any­more,” she said.

Once her hus­band moved out of state, they started to prac­tice nest­ing full-time. Mitchell’s hus­band would fly in each week­end and she would move out. Mitchell be­lieves that many par­ents al­low their neg­a­tive feel­ings about their ex-part­ner to af­fect the de­ci­sions they make post-di­vorce and that nest­ing can be a way to pri­or­i­tize the chil­dren’s needs first.

“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.”

It’s that in­ter­ac­tion that can cause po­ten­tial con­flict in nest­ing ar­range­ments, as far as Karina Alo­mar, a mat­ri­mo­nial lawyer in Ridge­wood, N.Y., is con­cerned. She has found that by shar­ing a space, for­mer spouses could use the fam­ily home as a bat­tle­ground, and the chil­dren are in­evitably the vic­tims.

“There are is­sues of par­ents in­vad­ing each other’s per­sonal space, leav­ing the house in a mess for the other par­ent, fail­ing to pur­chase their share of the gro­ceries and/or clothes for the chil­dren, and then draw­ing their chil­dren into the con­flict by ques­tion­ing them as to what oc­curred while they were out of the home or point­ing out the other par­ent’s de­fi­cien­cies,” she said.

Stacy D. Phillips, celebrity di­vorce at­tor­ney and au­thor, prac­tised nest­ing her­self dur­ing her di­vorce but does not rec­om­mend it as a long-term strat­egy. “I am a pro­po­nent of nest­ing in the right cir­cum­stances,” she said. She be­lieves that nest­ing can work in the short­term as a bridge be­tween fam­ily life pre- and post-sep­a­ra­tion.

“Nest­ing helps chil­dren adapt to the changes in the fam­ily struc­ture and can make this ma­jor life tran­si­tion eas­ier for ev­ery­one, but only if the par­ents trust each other and can com­mu­ni­cate am­i­ca­bly,” she said.

Zer­line Hughes Spruill, 39, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant, prac­tised a ver­sion of nest­ing with­out even re­al­iz­ing it was a con­cept. Af­ter a cross-state move, the cou­ple sep­a­rated and di­vorced. The chil­dren’s father re­turned to New York City, while Hughes Spruill bought a home for her and the kids in Washington, D.C.

“He would come to D.C. (for visi­ta­tions) and stay at my and the kids’ home for one or two nights,” she ex­plained.

This ar­range­ment al­lowed the chil­dren and their father to spend more time to­gether and avoided them ever hav­ing to travel to him un­ac­com­pa­nied.

Mean­while, Hughes Spruill found this al­lowed her to ex­er­cise her new free­dom.

“While he was there, I would stay out all night and dance, crash with a friend, and then later, with the guy I was see­ing who is now my hus­band,” she said.

But she did ex­pe­ri­ence a down­side to this phi­los­o­phy. Nei­ther her nor her for­mer hus­band’s new part­ners were en­thu­si­as­tic about the sit­u­a­tion, she said. Even though the for­mer spouses were not shar­ing the home at the same time, there is an in­ti­macy associated with in­hab­it­ing the same space and us­ing the same ameni­ties.

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 di­vorce or sep­a­ra­tion: at­tach­ment and “the grief process.” She be­lieves the con­sis­tency that nest­ing fans are ad­vo­cat­ing is not nec­es­sar­ily based on the en­vi­ron­ment the child lives in 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 in,” she said.

Al­though it is very hard for par­ents to see their chil­dren emo­tion­ally im­pacted by their split, 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.

She wor­ries that nest­ing could be an ex­cuse by some to con­trol and mi­cro­man­age chil­dren’s re­ac­tions to the end of their par­ents’ mar­riage.

Eng­land is also con­cerned that nest­ing doesn’t al­low newly di­vorced peo­ple to leave their past be­hind.

GETTY IMAGES/WAVEBREAK ME­DIA

Nest­ing is when the chil­dren re­main in the fam­ily home and the par­ents al­ter­nate mov­ing in and out, de­pend­ing on the cus­tody agree­ment.

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