For the better part of the last century, dads in California and other states hoping for a generous custody arrangement were pretty much out of luck. According to one study, mothers were awarded sole custody about 80 percent of the time in 1980. That percentage was nearly cut in half by 2008. These finding reflect a shift in thinking by the courts and a greater awareness of the role of fathers in children’s lives after a marriage ends.

While joint custody still isn’t the norm, many courts are now encouraging mutual agreements of shared parental custody. Equal splits are more likely with joint legal custody. Physical custody, which refers to where a child sleeps at night, still favors mothers primarily because of issues with logistics, such as proximity to a child’s school. Still, there has been a consistent and steady increase in instances of both equal and unequal shared custody.

A law school professor commenting on the shift in attitude about custody believes that the trend is, in part, due to increases in the divorce rate and feminist ideologies that result in fathers being expected to assume more of the child-rearing duties. There’s also research suggesting that dads who were in a marriage with the mother and those with greater financial means are more likely to seek custody. Even so, single fathers and those with less economic clout still fare better in court today.

Courts today are also more likely to push parents toward pre-trial mediation to work out custody arrangements. The role of a child custody lawyer in this process is typically to ensure that legal and physical custody decisions are fair. A family law attorney may remind both parents to keep the best interests of the child in mind when working out a mutually acceptable visitation schedule.