Category: Parenting Plans

The Basics of Bird Nesting

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

On occasion, clients who consult with divorce lawyers in Greenwich, Westport and other Fairfield County cities and towns, inquire about arrangements where the children stay in their home and the parents alternate moving in and out. This is commonly known as “bird nesting.” The motivation for this type of parenting plan is often financial. Parents sometimes recognize an inability to have two homes that are adequate to meet the needs of their children, especially during the pendency of a divorce. Or sometimes parents feel they are being more compassionate toward their children if they keep them full time in the home they are used to, particularly when the divorce action has just started and emotions are raw.

For these reasons, bird nesting sometimes may be a reasonable short term solution, however it is rarely ideal. Unless the family home is very expansive, privacy of each parent can be an issue. Sharing rooms, particularly the former marital bedroom, can lead to unwanted encroachment of personal space. It can also create emotional confusion for the children. Usually, a clean break although painful in the short term, is more realistic.

Certainly once a divorce is final, bird nesting is rarely practical. An alternative that works in some cases is to have both parents live in close proximity to each other. Although this means the children go back and forth, if both parents remain in the same neighborhood, the children are able to sustain their connection with what is familiar and comforting to them. Of course, this means the divorced parents must feel comfortable being in proximity to a former spouse, which often is not the case given the contentiousness that permeates many divorces. So like concentric circles, moving further out but still in the same geographic location is often the best move.

Children are generally resilient and in time most get used to two households. Often it is a relief from the tension and fighting they have observed prior to the divorce, sometimes for many years. And they may even think it is “creepy” for their parents to bird nest once the divorce is inevitable or after it occurs.

If you are considering bird nesting, it can be helpful to consult with a therapist who can meet with the parents and children, sometimes in different constellations, so that everybody can express their true feelings and concerns about such an arrangement. And it is a good idea to establish clear ground rules that ensure privacy and respect.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we are able to develop bird nesting plans that meet our clients’ needs. We are creative in our approach and thoughtful in the execution. We also assist our clients in remaining flexible when it is necessary to tweak or modify an arrangement that might work better for the family as time goes on.

Modifying an Existing Custody Order during and/or after a Divorce Proceeding

Once the court enters an order of custody, a parent always has the legal right to return to court to seek to modify the original parenting plan.  Contested custody proceedings, including modification proceedings, can present some of the most challenging and contentious situations for parents and for their children whether the proceeding occurs during the divorce or after a final judgment.

If a parent wants to modify an existing custody order the moving parent bears the burden of establishing that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original order. In determining whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the court must consider the rights and responsibilities of each of the parents, as well as a number of other statutory criteria, including whether the modification serves the children’s best interests.  No single statutory criterion is controlling nor is the court limited to the criteria specified by law.  Factors considered by the court include, but are not limited to the following:

(1) The developmental needs of the children;

(2) Each parent’s ability to meet and understand the needs of the children;

(3) The past and current interaction(s) and relationship(s) of the children with each parent, the children’s siblings and/or other significant contacts to the children;

(4) The children’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community    environments;

(5) The length of time that the children have lived in a stable and satisfactory environment and the             desirability of maintaining continuity in such environment, provided the court may consider favorably a parent who voluntarily leaves the children’s family home during a divorce proceeding in order to alleviate stress in the household;

(6) The stability of the children’s existing or proposed residences;

(7) The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a continuing parent-child relationship between the children and the other parent; and

(8) Any coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the children in parental disputes.

There are many reasons why a parent may seek to modify an existing custody order.  Sometimes the parenting plan schedule may no longer work for one or both of the parents as a result of a change in work and/or the children’s school schedules.  Other times the children’s developmental and/or psychological needs may have changed or the children may not have adjusted well to an existing home, school and/or community environment.  There is no single wrong or right reason to modify a parenting plan.

At Broder & Orland LLC we understand that parenting time arrangements can be complex and sometimes must be modified to meet each family’s changing needs. We are adept at advising our clients on the strategies involved in establishing a parenting plan and understand the multitude of factors considered by a Court during a modification custody proceeding. We also recognize the emotional stresses and challenges that contested custody matters can pose on parents and on their children and we are empathetic to our clients’ needs.

Shared Physical Custody, Split Custody & Child Support

In our practice at Broder & Orland, LLC, we are often asked the following questions:

  1. If my spouse and I share physical custody of our children, do I still have to
    pay child support?; and
  2. Can my spouse get out of paying child support by requesting shared
    physical custody?

Generally, the answer to each question is “No”, however, the answer could be different
depending on the specific circumstances of your case.

Whether you and your spouse reside in Greenwich or West Hartford Connecticut the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines (hereinafter “Guidelines”) apply to your case. The Guidelines define “shared physical custody” as: “a situation in which the physical residence of the child is shared by the parents in a manner that ensures the child has substantially equal time and contact with both parents. An exactly equal sharing of physical care and control of the child is not required for a finding of shared physical custody.” An example of shared physical custody is the Father having parenting time with the children every Monday and Tuesday, the Mother having parenting time with the children every Wednesday and Thursday, and the parents alternating every other weekend with the children. However, the division of parenting time could be less than in this example and still qualify as shared physical custody.

Contrary to popular belief, shared physical custody alone, does not relieve a parent of his or her child support obligation. Pursuant to the Guidelines, in a shared physical custody situation, “the presumptive current support order shall equal the presumptive current support amount of the parent with the higher net weekly income, payable to the parent with the lower net weekly income.” Thus, presumptively, the child support obligation is identical whether there is a shared physical custody situation or a non-shared physical custody situation.

In some cases, there may be special circumstances in which a deviation from the presumptive support amount may be warranted for equitable reasons. The two special circumstances delineated in the Guidelines which may warrant a deviation in a shared physical custody situation are: (1) such arrangement substantially (a) reduces expenses for the child for the parent with the lower net weekly income, or increases the expenses for the child for the parent with the higher net weekly income, and (b) sufficient funds remain for the parent receiving support to meet the needs of the child after deviation, or
(2) both parents have substantially equal income. The analysis that is applied to such a deviation is fact specific and determined on a case by case basis.

Family law attorneys sometimes incorrectly apply the “split custody” analysis to shared physical custody situations. The Guidelines define “split custody” as: “a situation in which there is more than one child in common and each parent is the custodial parent of at least one of the children.” An example of split custody is where one child primarily resides with the Mother and the other child primarily resides with the Father. In that situation, the Court would determine the presumptive child support amount if both children primarily resided with the Mother, and then determine the presumptive child support amount if both children primarily resided with the Father, and subtract the lesser amount from the greater amount. For example, if the Mother’s presumptive child support obligation was $750 per week, and the Father’s presumptive child support obligation was $250 per week, the Mother would pay $500 per week in child support to the Father.

The attorneys at Broder & Orland, LLC are experienced with the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines and the various deviation criteria. No two cases are the same. We will tailor an approach to suit the needs of your family using all applicable Connecticut


I am often asked, “What is a typical parenting plan in a divorce case”? Many people believe (assuming the mother works part-time or is a “stay-at-home” mother and the father works full time) that the children will be with the father as follows: (a) every other weekend from Friday evening through Sunday at dinner time and (b) have dinner with him one evening a week. While this may have been common practice 20 or 30 years ago, it is no longer typical.

Many top Fairfield County divorce lawyers will tell you that the every other weekend concept more commonly (a) starts on Friday and ends on the return to school Monday morning, or (b) starts on Thursday after school and extends to Sunday evening or Monday morning. A major factor in this determination is where both parties live and work in relation thereto. If the parties reside in, for example, Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Stamford, Westport or Fairfield, and the father commutes to New York City, and has little flexibility with his work schedule, then the parenting plan would be more reflective of those from 25 years ago. However, if the father has some flexibility or works close to where he lives then it is more common for every other weekend to expand and have an additional midweek overnight.