This week, ABC premiered a new sitcom featuring parents who want to divorce, but are saddled with more mortgage than house value, a situation that faces real-life couples. Like many real-life families, the characters choose to remain in the same home, alternating parenting responsibilities for their children. Lena and Martin, the parents on the show, alternate living spaces as well, with one living in the garage apartment when he/she is not “on duty.”
Separation in the same house is not uncommon. Sometimes, instead of having an underwater mortgage, a family may not have sufficient income to immediately obtain a second residence for the spouses to live fully apart. However, the arrangement, called “nesting,” has complicating factors that parents should carefully consider.
- A nesting arrangement may allow unhappy parents time and space apart to think thoroughly through financial and logistic decisions before committing to future life plans, including large expenditures like new housing.
- Although nesting can allow for stability for children during a time of family upheaval, if left too long or without a unified message, children may believe their parents will reconcile. In contrast, nesting arrangements may delay parents from moving forward in their future, soon to be single lives, as the adults are the ones transitioning between homes, rather than the children, as in traditional shared custody models.
- Nesting is most successful in low conflict divorces where parents can co-parent effectively and reach consensus on enough issues to maintain consistency for the children. Nesting may continue to cause conflict if the parties cannot agree on issues like: minimum cleanliness of the shared home(s), sharing of daily expenses, like groceries, and general rules for the children.
- From a legal perspective, in some jurisdictions, nesting parents may not be considered separated for the purposes of fulfilling the required separation period before divorce. This could impact property division and support in the final divorce. Additionally, courts may not be willing to decide matters of custody or child support unless the parties are living in fully separate households.
While the critics can review the merits of Splitting up Together as entertainment, it is always interesting to see real-world topics pop up in prime time. If you are thinking about a nesting arrangement with your spouse, and the impact it may have on your children, or the legal case for divorce in your particular jurisdiction, reach out and contact us for a consultation.