For the better part of the last century, mothers in California and the rest of the country were more likely to be favored when there was a need to make custody decisions. Mothers still generally enjoy more rights with their children after a divorce than fathers, but the prevailing trend in the 21st century is toward shared parenting or joint custody whenever possible.

With child custody cases, two types of decisions are typically made. One is about legal custody, and the other one concerns physical custody, or where a child sleeps at night. Most courts start with a presumption of joint or equal legal custody. With physical custody, an equal split isn’t always realistically possible because of issues with logistics, such as where the child goes to school.

According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study, mothers were granted sole custody about 80 percent of the time in 1980. That percentage was nearly cut in half by 2008. What’s more, there was a noticeable increase in both equal and unequal shared custody during the same time period. There once was an inherent belief that children were better off with their mothers. Over time, however, courts began to see more importance in having fathers remain actively involved in raising their children. Even unmarried dads tend to fare better today.

It’s also becoming increasingly common for custody matters to be resolved outside of court. With situations like this, the role of a divorce attorney is to negotiate a fair arrangement between both parties while still ensuring that the wishes of the parent they are representing are kept in mind. A lawyer may also get involved if issues with visitation schedules or child support payments arise once a custody plan has been agreed upon.