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Choices in child custody arrangements

The term "child custody" actually refers to two different types of custody. The parent with legal custody is able to make decisions about the child's welfare, including religion health care and education. The child lives with the parent who has physical custody. California parents may have sole physical and legal custody or joint physical and legal custody or some combination of the two. Joint legal custody is fairly common.

When parents share physical custody, the child often alternates between their homes, spending every few days or each week with one or the other parent. Another arrangement is called bird's nest custody and involves the children continuing to live in the family home while the parents take turns living there.

A more unusual arrangement is serial custody in which a child lives for several years with one parent and then several years with the other parent. Parents may choose this so the child can live with the same-sex parent during the teen years, but it is important to make sure this arrangement does not prevent the child from maintaining a relationship with the noncustodial parent. Split custody means that some siblings live with one parent and some with the other. Third-party custody may happen if the children's well-being with the parents is in question and they go to live with other relatives.

Even if parents have a high-conflict divorce, it is usually in the best interests of the child if they are able to negotiate an agreement for child custody instead of going through a long battle in litigation. A mediation process focuses on conflict resolution reaching a cooperative agreement that suits everyone involved in contrast to the more adversarial nature of litigation. In their parenting plan, parents might even agree to return to return to mediation to resolve any future conflict that may arise.

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