When parents in California get a divorce, they may need to reach an agreement on child custody. It is increasingly common for parents to use mediation to create this agreement instead of going to court. A custody agreement addresses both legal and physical custody. The former refers to which parent will have the right to make decisions about the child’s health care, education, religion and other major issues. The latter is about where the child will live.

In 1980, mothers got sole custody in 80% of custody cases. However, there have been significant changes as more women are working outside the home and more men are encouraged to play a substantial role in the lives of their children. In 2008, mothers got sole custody in just 42% of cases. Meanwhile, joint custody has been on the rise, going from 5% to 27% for custody arrangements in which the child splits time equally between parents and from 3% to 18% in situations where the time was spent unequally.

There has also been a rise in custody cases that involve unmarried parents. While in the past fathers who had lower incomes might have been at a disadvantage in custody cases if they were not married to the mother, courts today generally treat them the same as divorcing fathers.

Parents have a number of different options for custody and visitation arrangements, and negotiating an agreement out of court can allow them to come up with a solution that suits their situation. For example, some parents use an approach called “nesting” in which they take turns moving in and out of the home that the children live in full time although this usually only works over the short term. Parents can also make arrangements that suit their work schedules as well as their children’s schedules and needs.