California parents who are getting a divorce may opt for joint legal custody even if physical custody is not shared. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make major decisions related to issues such as health care, education and religion for a child. It is common even for a parent who only has visitation rights to share legal custody with an ex.

There are pros and cons to this arrangement. Joint legal custody can work even if parents have had a contentious relationship as long as they are both willing to try to work through their differences and reach agreements. It can be healthy for children to see their parents go through this process. In some cases, joint custody may actually strengthen the co-parenting relationship. Over the years, parents may also find that they appreciate being able to consult one another as they make difficult decisions about their children.

On the other hand, being granted joint legal custody cannot force parents to work together effectively. Some parents may try to manipulate the other and insist that parent has to agree because they have been granted joint legal custody. There could also be issues if one parent tends to only be an active and involved parent intermittently. Furthermore, there are times when consulting both parents simply is not practical.

Parents should keep these considerations in mind as they negotiate child custody and visitation arrangements. Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation may help parents reach agreements and even help them learn techniques for conflict resolution that they can use after the divorce. Creating a parenting plan may also help diffuse some conflict that could arise later.