Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jon and Kate are splitting!

I love Hollywood gossip (almost as much as the entertainment product the actors and actresses put out), but the salacious reporting this morning of the very human drama also has legal implications. Apart from informing my own continuous drafting of my prenuptial agreements (some girls daydream about their dresses, I suppose), Jon and Kate have planned an interesting approach to the future use of the house and the co-parenting of their fifteen (oh, my mistake, only eight) kids. They are adopting a “bird nest” approach: where the children remain in the marital home, and the parents reside there only when spending their apportioned time with the children.

Bird nesting is a shared custody concept thought to be child-centric. By allowing the children to remain in their home, the children’s stability is protected, as is their relationship with both parents. Too, family law people tell me the arrangement is intended to minimize disputes between parents on sharing time with the children, and the constant to-and-fro of the kids between separate homes (and maybe also, schools). In preparation to post this writing, however, I came across a
journal article arguing the arrangement is unnecessary and counter productive, and tends to fail. The author discussed a number of reasons, including: continued hostility between the parents that is detrimentally absorbed by the children, and the quandary of how to handle parents with previous families, or who remarry and build other families later (as nesting is typically not structured to accommodate either).

What I’m wondering first, however, is how practical an option this is for the average middle-class couple going through the trauma of divorce? Who has the financial wherewithal to support the nest, as well as separate apartments or houses for both parents? That’s a lot of money going out each month for mortgage and / or rent, not to mention property taxes and maintenance costs. Also, what are the property rights in this relationship: who owns what, and if the patio is ruined while Mom is at home, does Dad share in the expense of repairing it? If Dad wants to add a stereo system throughout the home, is Mom responsible for contributing to the expense? If she doesn’t, can she participate in any profit earned if the house is sold at a higher value as a result of the improvement? Are “rules of the house” part of the custody agreement ... those that govern both the kids (bed times) and parents (guests)? And I guess most importantly, an arrangement like this requires loads of cooperation from both parents. Is that even a reasonable expectation in the face of dismantling a marriage?

For what it’s worth, good luck Counsel to Jon and Kate!

(Photo courtesy of Us Magazine and Splash News).

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