After a divorce, parents in California may share physical custody, or one parent might have physical custody while the other parent has visitation rights. In the former situation, the child would live with each parent for roughly an equal amount of time while in the latter situation, the child would primarily live with one parent but spend time with the other.
Legal custody is separate from physical custody, and parents who do not share physical custody might still share legal custody. Legal custody refers to the right of the parents to make major decisions about the child's life. This could include what religion the child practices, where the child goes to school and what kind of medical treatment the child receives. Sharing legal custody has advantages and disadvantages. It ensures the meaningful involvement of both parents in the child's life, and it is an excellent arrangement for parents who are committed to collaboration. On the other hand, parents may struggle with effective communication or disagreements about how to raise the child.
Parents who do run up against a disagreement they cannot resolve still have options. They may agree earlier on that a neutral third party can be turned to in these decisions, or a mediator may help them resolve the conflict. Courts may intervene, but usually only regarding major issues.
In family law negotiation, whether a parenting issue needs to be resolved or parents are trying to reach an initial plan for child custody and visitation, mediation can be a valuable tool. The goal of mediation is to make sure both sides are heard, that conflict is resolved and that a resolution is reached that satisfies everyone involved. With mediation during the divorce process, parents may be able to establish a solid basis for co-parenting that can help them whether they only share legal custody or both legal and physical custody.