Five Co-Parent Living Arrangements: Which One is Right for You?

When Bob and I divorced 20 years ago, co-parenting wasn’t even a term yet.  And divorced parents were certainly not as creative as they are now with their living arrangements.  Today, co-parents have a number of options to explore when it comes to where they and their children will live post-breakup. In this article, we take a look at the five options below to help you decide which co-parent living arrangement is right for you.

  • “Nesting” or “birdnesting”
  • Children and divorced parents all remain living in the same home
  • Child lives in one home and visits the other parent on a set schedule
  • Children live in one home and have no contact with the other parent
  • Child lives in two separate homes on a set schedule – most common

Nesting” or “Bird-nesting”

In this new-age co-parent living arrangement, there is one primary residence where the children live full time.  The parents take turns rotating in and out of the home on a routine schedule.  Bob and I actually did this for the first few months of our separation while we prepared to sell our joint home.  It served very well in the short term to relieve the tension that comes from cohabitating with someone from whom you are divorcing.  The negative energy is overwhelming, and at times, all-out debilitating.  It’s like watching someone die – that someone was our marriage, our dream family.  Very depressing!  So we ended up splitting weeks in the house.  One week I would stay there with our son and Bob would stay with family.  The next week Bob would stay in the house with our son and I would go to my girlfriend’s house and stay in her guest room.

Nesting with three homes – Kids, Mom’s, and Dad’s

If you like the stability that this co-parent living arrangement offers your kids, I get it.  Frankly, I do too.  But as a longer term solution, you need to consider some other things.  For one, this arrangement assumes that each parent maintains a separate residence somewhere else.  Many parents simply cannot afford to pay toward two homes.

Nesting with two shared homes

I’ve also heard of parents who share the outside residence and rotate between the two.  This is a little bit easier financially and certainly a very creative solution!  But how will you or your ex feel once the other starts dating again?  What if they bring them to your home?  What if you want to bring someone you get serious with into the home?  Can you agree on strict boundaries in these cases?  Do you both agree on things like housekeeping, home décor, and home expenses? 

These concerns may be insignificant in relation to your kids. However, they also drive many to divorce in the first place. If you are divorcing because you want to start over, it will be challenging to do so sharing a residence with your ex – even if you are not there are the same time.  Still, for you the benefits of this arrangement may outweigh the cost.  And that is a perfectly acceptable decision.

Children and Divorced Parents all Live in the Same Home

Yes some people even do this!  As with the above co-parent living arrangement, you need to consider whether or not this is really viable for you, your ex-spouse, and your children?  If you agree enough to make this work, I question your decision to divorce at all.  Ask yourself, “Why do I want a divorce?”  “What do I want to get out of it?”.  Most of the gains from divorcing involve starting fresh, making your own independent choices, resolving the conflicts caused by living together, and eventually moving on to new relationships.  Does living in the same house allow for any of these things to happen?

Unless you have a residence that allows for entirely separate living quarters, I really don’t see how this could work?  Still this may work out splendidly for everyone if your home has separate living areas or shares adjoining walls. Think twin single, duplex, adjacent town homes, or apartments.  Of course, it is the best choice financially speaking since there will be only one household to maintain.  Just be aware that once either of you begins to explore new romantic relationships, the other will have a birds-eye-view of these activities. That could become extremely awkward if not troublesome.

Child Lives in One Home and Visits the Other Parent on a Set Schedule

Many still accept the standard legal custody arrangement. In this arrangement, one parent is designated as the custodial parent, granted full custody. In other words, the child lives full-time with them. The other parent has routine visitation with the child every other weekend and on Wednesday evening from 6:00 – 9:00 PM.  There are other schedules.  But this is the default for a number of states.

A Word About the Term “Visitation

For me, the word visitation just pisses me off.  It is so negative, evoking visions of either prisons or hospitals.  It is not an appropriate term to associate with the hopefully happy time a parent spends with his or her  children.  Still there are situations in which this arrangement is the best choice.  Has the other parent moved too far away to schedule more frequent visits?  As far I’m concerned, they made a choice and must live with the consequences.  Are they disinterested in having the children more frequently?  Well you certainly don’t want the kids to spend more time with a parent who doesn’t want it. 

If you haven’t defined a parenting schedule and plan to accept this default, I implore you to consider other options. In the vast majority of cases, both parents want to spend a substantial amount of time with their children.  And the children absolutely benefit from both parents being heavily involved in their upbringing.  If you are in the middle of divorcing, talk to the other parent to determine what they want and expect.

Child Lives in One Home and Has No Contact with the Other Parent – a.k.a. Single Parent

Of course in this co-parent living arrangement, you are not a co-parent.  You are either a single mom or single dad.  It is unfortunate but true that this is the best choice in matters of abuse and violence. It may be the only choice in matters of abandonment.  My heart goes out to parents and children who become victims to these circumstances.  But while you are hurt, overwhelmed, and maybe even lost, give thanks for being liberated from fear.  Be happy that someone has exiting your lives who didn’t care to play a role in it.  You do not want them there. You now have a wonderful opportunity to chart a new course for happiness with them gone.

Child lives Part-time in Each Parent’s Home –  most common

Bob and I agreed on this co-parent living arrangement coupled with a shared parenting agreement that called for us to equally split parenting responsibilities and time with our son.  In our case, neither of us could afford our current home, so we agreed to sell it and split the proceeds.  We then each took this money to use as a down payment on our new homes. 

One spouse relinquishes the family home to establish a new residence

If you want to keep your current home, be prepared to buy out the equity from the other.  Some spouses will simply forfeit their equity.  Only you can decide if this makes sense for you financially and emotionally.  But don’t walk away from your greatest asset simply because you want to get out of your marriage and move on.  You may be hurting not only yourself but your child as you struggle to establish a new residence without the benefit of the proceeds from your former home to buy a new house.

Both parents buy new homes

We talked about what to do with our home, and ultimately, we concluded that neither of us could afford that home alone.  So we sold it and divided the proceeds.  Selling it was hard since we had only built the place two years earlier and Bob had just spent a lot of time finishing much of the basement.  I loved that house.  But in the end, it was better to leave the negative energy we had deposited there behind as we started our new lives.

After we decided that neither of us was keeping the home we had built, I began looking for a new house that Ian and I could call home.  Fortunately, I made enough to afford to buy a home on my own.  So I didn’t have to consider apartments.  Bob, too, could independently swing a home mortgage and expenses.  We both had to downgrade on the luxuries slightly and didn’t have as much money left over for extras after the mortgage.  But we each could provide a comfortable for our son.

I decided to stay in the exceptional school district we were in, and luckily found another home in the same neighborhood. Several boys Ian’s age lived on that street which was a mere quarter mile from the home we were leaving.  The house set on a cul de sac and even backed up to a ravine.  No neighbors behind us and plenty of woods and even a stream.  While the home was smaller, the lot was an upgrade – something that eased my pain of losing our other home.

Bob chose to build a home that was in an up-and-coming neighborhood through a thin line of trees and across one main road directly behind my house.  It was only about a quarter-mile as the crow flies.  So I knew as Ian got older, he’d eventually be able to go between our two houses on foot or by bike. 

Benefits of living close to your co-parent

Before we did it, I really didn’t think about how much easier living so close made things for everyone.  Since we were in the same school district, Ian took the bus from and to either home for several years.  When this wasn’t the case, Ian’s dad dropped him off to me in the morning since he worked earlier. Then I would put Ian on the bus.  This gave me a chance each day to connect with my son before school – a great strategy for regaining some of that lost parenting time.  Then there was the ongoing transfer of clothes, toys, sports equipment, homework, and music instruments in between homes. 

When Ian was young, I or his father packed his stuff up.  As he got older, he packed up his own things.  Over the years, Ian, his day or I forgot hundreds of items that had to be retrieved from one house or another.  We both became frustrated from time to time when Ian forgot things; but then we acknowledged that it couldn’t be easy living in two places at once.  I had never done it and was sure that I’d have been running back and forth in between houses at least daily and maybe even hourly to get a particular jacket, book, or stuffed animal. 

Co-parents living in two homes should equip both houses with the necessities

To minimize this madness, we bought duplicates of some of the main items.  We sincerely tried to offer roughly the same experience at each home – at least materially.  We even bought Ian the same bed.  As much as Bob and I had competed during our marriage to win every conversation, neither of us was interested in seeing the other one lose at parenting.  We had finally found a motivation to be nicer to one another. 

So we purchased two swing sets, two bikes, plenty of clothes for both houses, and two drum kits.  Oh, there had to be two drum kits!  Otherwise, one of us would have never seen our child or we would have been stuck carting that set back and forth for years to come.  As it turned out, when Ian reached fifth grade and created his first rock band, we did end up carting around the drums a lot.  Except rather than it being between homes, it was from the house to a show and back.  And yes, we both helped load in and load out.  When Ian got big enough to carry his own the drums, we jointly declared our days as roadies over.

Co-parents Living within Walking Distance

With adolescence came some other benefits to the close living arrangement we had chosen.  Since there was only one house blocking my view of Bob’s backyard from my house, I was comfortable allowing Ian to walk between our homes. I watched him walk most of the way and his dad could see him on the other side once I lost sight.  If Ian wanted something from the other home, he simply walked over and got it. If he wanted to hang out with his friends who lived next to his dad during my week, he could easily get there. This was great. 

I never wanted Ian to prefer one home over another because of our choices.  I didn’t want him to be bummed out that he had to go to another home and leave his friends behind for a week.  And I absolutely wanted him to look forward to being with each of us. The benefits of living so close vastly improved the circumstances of our separated family.  But it didn’t happen by accident.  We chose to make it happen this way.

When considering your co-parent living arrangement, I know it isn’t always possible or the best choice to live within a quarter mile of each other as Bob and I did.  However, I will say I think it behooves you to live close enough to not make it extraordinarily difficult for your child and your ex-spouse to spend time together.  I personally think walking distance IS the best choice if you want the optimal shared-parenting arrangement.  But at least make it a short drive if it has to be that way. 

Benefits of Co-parents Living in the Same School District

There are a number of benefits to living in the same school district.  Not only will you benefit from being more directly connected to your child’s academic community, it will give you far more opportunity to get to know his friends and their parents.  You’ll find it much easier to attend and enjoy that sense of community and belonging at sporting events, performances, and teacher conferences.  And as you pay taxes to the school district where your child attends you will take a keener interest in the decisions that institution makes.

Co-parents Should Set a Distance Boundary

Whatever co-parent living arrangement you decide on, I highly recommend including a living distance boundary within your divorce decree stating that you both agree to live within a maximum distance in miles from one another until the child turns eighteen.  I know this can be career limiting for some.  You may have to curtail upward mobility until your child is older. 

Be careful of your perspective on this one, though, and remember the Golden Rule here.  Would you want the other parent to live so far away that it would place a burden on you to accommodate their parental rights?  Worse yet, if your ex is the “custodial parent” – the one designated as the primary residence for the child – how would you feel if they up and moved a hundred or even a thousand miles away with your child in the pursuit of a career?  Wouldn’t you feel that this completely disregarded your rights and your child’s rights to have you in their lives on a consistent basis? 

Co-Parents Need to Plan for the Future from the Beginning

Life is about choices.  You have a very important one to make when it comes to your co-parent living arrangement.  And granted, you may not feel that you have to establish a legal commitment to distance parameters now.  But if your child is young, so much can change.  And you don’t want such an important matter to be left entirely to the idea that you will always have a positive relationship with your spouse.  You never know who might influence your ex or you in the future. 

Even with this boundary agreed to legally, if a desperate situation arises and one parent needs to revisit it, the legal agreement will provide the other parent with some leverage or even recourse. This will help to force the parent who wants the change to consider the other parent in the equation. If they fail to do this, it could result in legal penalties or even a surrender of parenting rights.

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