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When Parents Divorce, the Children Get the House
A common Sunday night ritual for children whose parents are divorced is packing up the schoolbooks and soccer cleats for the weekly trek to mom or dad’s house.
In a flip, some divorced couples are trying an approach they call nesting: Mom and Dad shuttle back and forth while the children stay in the family home.
Some couples rent separate apartments for when they are away from the family home. Other couples rent an apartment together. When money is very tight, the off-duty parent sleeps on a friend’s or relative’s sofa.
Nesting makes sense, some couples say, to give the children stability. The parents reduce the financial pain of divorce by being able to wait for the right time to sell the family home or to invest in new homes.
Therapists, however, often don’t approve. They caution that the arrangement impinges on the parents’ privacy at a time they’re meant to establish their own new lives and routines. They question whether such close collaboration allows people to move on. And some question whether it is good for the children to see their separated parents still so deeply entwined.
“It takes a heroic effort,” says Ruth Zitner a therapist based in Washington, D.C. “You have to be emotionally aware and amicable. It goes beyond the children. Who washes the dishes in the sink? Who cleans rotting fruit in the fridge?”
Alan Mendelsohn, a documentary filmmaker in Toronto nested for seven years until 2011. When he and his wife discussed getting divorced, they ran through a variety of scenarios including buying a duplex apartment and getting houses next to each other.
A tight housing market in Toronto and love of the family house eventually led them to nesting. Together he and his ex rented an apartment a five-minute walk from the house. One of them would spend three weeks at home with the children, ages 12, 16 and 18, while the other went to the apartment. They shared one of the bedrooms in the family house but had separate bedrooms in the apartment. This allowed for a modicum of privacy if he was dating.
“We tried to make it best of all possible worlds,” says Mr. Mendelsohn.
The rules of the arrangement were never codified but they were clear. Handover was done on Sunday. The departing parent made sure the house was spotless: no cosmetics or shaving cream were to be left in the master bathroom; no papers on the desk in the study. The apartment was also kept clean and stocked with basics like toilet paper and salt. Thoughtfulness was what kept the arrangement working.
“It was an inconvenience,” says Mr. Mendelsohn. “I would have preferred my own place and that stability but then the kids wouldn’t have had that stability.”
The couple ended the arrangement when the children went to college.
Debbie Nigro, co-founder of First Wives World, an online support network and radio talk show host, says that both economics and better parenting are leading people to think of divorce in new ways. She says divorcing people are more creative because women have more earning power, and men are doing more child care.
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