Local lawyer hopes for awareness of Bird’s Nest custody


Certified family law specialist John Griffith has been dealing with custody battles since his own nearly a decade ago.

The 38-year-old partner at the Encinitas law firm Griffith, Young and Lass knows there are many kinds of custody deals that divorcing parents can choose, but he wishes there was more awareness for a unique arrangement called Bird’s Nest custody.

Under this arrangement, the kids stay in the primary marital residence, while the parents move in and out, either weekly or every few days. This allows the children to keep their routines, stay in their same room and remain near their friends and their school.

This specialized form of joint custody isn’t common, or even viable in all cases — either due to the cost of maintaining three households or the inability of the parents to remain amicable enough with each other to make it work — but, if possible, Griffith says it is the best arrangement.

“If nesting is sustainable, you can afford it, it’s the best thing for the kids, in my opinion,” said the Thomas Jefferson School of Law graduate. “Every case where kids are faced with the realistic risk of having to move away from the neighborhood they grew up in, is a case where I have pushed nesting. I have cases where it’s just heartbreaking, the mom can’t afford to stay in the same neighborhood and these kids have to move away from their friends and change schools.

“I’ve got couples that still love each other and are working together, getting through the divorce as easily and nonconfrontationally as possible. In situations like that, I think nesting works out a lot better.”

Even in the affluent cities in San Diego’s North Coastal region, nesting isn’t done very often. Though Griffith said he often presents it to parents as a possible option — especially during the pendency of divorce — in eight years practicing he has only ever seen two couples give the option a try. Nesting is thought to have been first implemented by a couple in Virginia in 2000.

“I think a lot of people don’t know it is a potential option,” Griffith explained. “Maybe, if it came out in pop culture that it was popular, maybe if we saw on Entertainment Tonight that a celebrity couple was doing nesting, we could at least bring some awareness to it as an option.”

In addition to lack of awareness, Griffith adds that the sad truth is, divorcing parents don’t always do what is best for children, even if money isn’t the issue.

“The worst possible part of a divorce is how the divorce affects the kids,” he continued. “And when parents learn that, sometimes they change their behavior and sometimes they don’t. And the parent that is willing to change their behavior, to put the needs of the kids first, is usually the one that ends up getting custody of the kids.”

Griffith grew up in a military family. He spent eight years of his childhood in Germany, attended high school in Texas, then college in L.A. and Georgia. After law school, he worked for several firms before starting his own practice five years ago. He was joined first by Katie Young, then Amy Lass made it Griffith, Young and Lass three years ago.

Griffith married Young three years ago and the two have a daughter due in September. Son Jadon, 12, from Griffith’s previous marriage, completes the family unit.

“I went to law school knowing I wanted to be a family law attorney because I went through a divorce of my own while an undergrad,” Griffith said. “A lot of times when I represent people that are going through tough custody battles, I can kind of relate to them.”