Maine Child Custody Laws

Maine Child Custody

Here’s what you should know if you’re engaged in a child custody action in Maine.

What are the Types of Child Custody in Maine?

Although child custody is a concept that many parents understand, Maine courts use the language of  “parental rights and responsibilities” (legal custody) and “physical residence” (physical custody).

Parental rights and responsibilities refer to each parent’s rights and obligations to take part in decisions regarding the child’s well-being—like medical decisions, religious training, and educational decisions.

Physical residence refers to where the child will live and which parent will have control over the child’s day-to-day activities.

Courts can divide parenting rights and responsibilities as shared rights, allocated, and sole.

Shared parental rights means that each parent takes part in making decisions regarding the child’s wellbeing, and both parents must consult with each other before deciding how to handle significant issues.  This arrangement is the preferred in the Maine family court system.  It is considered beneficial when both parents have equal input into the child’s upbringing.

In allocated rights, the court may award one parent the ability to make religious decisions while granting the other the right to control all educational decisions.

Maine courts will award one parent sole rights and responsibilities in rare cases.  This means the parent does not need to consult with the other when making important decisions regarding the child. If the court awards one parent sole residence, it means that the parent will decide where the child lives and will be responsible for day-to-day decisions for the child.

You can also get a temporary parental rights and responsibilities order in some instances.  The court can grant you temporary parental rights and responsibilities in a protection from abuse (PFA) order. However, any custody case that is filed afterwards could overrule the custody portion of your PFA.

Second, you might also be able to get a temporary order when you file your petition for a permanent parental rights and responsibilities order and are awaiting the hearing.  The temporary order is only in place while the divorce is ongoing.  Once it is finalized, the order may change.

A judge may order supervised visits between a child and a parent who has been abusive or is a convicted child-related sex offender.  The judge has to set conditions that must be followed during the visits which may include:

  • Limit circumstances when the family of the abusive parent would be supervising visits;
  • Make sure that it does not damage the relationship between the child and the non-abusive parent
  • Ensure the safety and well-being of the child
  • Require that supervision is provided by a person who is physically and mentally capable of supervising a visit and who does not have a criminal history or history of abuse or neglect

Read More:  Divorce Laws in Maine

Determining Child Custody in Maine

Before you can file for custody, you will need to make sure Maine can handle your case by determining that Maine is your child’s home state.

Home state is the state your child has lived in with one or both parents for at least the last six months before the date you file. If your child is less than six months old, the “home state” is the state where your child has lived since birth.

For example, if you and your child moved to Maine less than six months ago, Maine would not be your child’s home state. You will probably have to file in the state you and your child lived in before moving to Maine, assuming that the other parent still lives there. Another option might be to file in Maine after you and your child have lived in the state for at least six months.

All custody cases are decided in Maine based on what is best for the child.  Parents can come up with an agreement and present it to the court for approval.  When they can’t agree, the court will review all pertinent information and decide instead.

To determine the child’s best interest, the judge will consider several factors, including:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s relationship with each parent and anyone else who may affect the child’s welfare
  • The duration and stability of the child’s current living situation
  • Stability of any proposed living arrangements
  • Each parent’s ability to give the child love, affection, and guidance
  • The child’s adjustment to their present home, school, and community
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage frequent contact between the child and the other parent
  • Each parent’s ability to cooperate in childcare
  • Each parent’s methods for parental cooperation and resolving disputes
  • The effect on the child if one parent has sole authority over the child’s upbringing
  • Whether either parent has a history of domestic abuse or child abuse
  • If either parent has lied about abuse to gain an advantage in the custody proceedings
  • If the child is under one year of age, whether one parent is breastfeeding the child
  • Whether either parent or a person living in either parent’s household has been convicted of a sex offense
  • The child’s custodial preference if they are old enough to have a meaningful opinion
  • Any other factors the court deems relevant to custody

The court must give equal consideration to both parents, regardless of the parent’s or child’s gender or age.

Maine judges must consider the child’s custodial preference whenever the child is old enough to have a meaningful opinion. There is no set age when the court will consider the child’s opinion.  A child’s input is judged on a case-by-case basis.  Ultimately, any input the child has is advisory only.  The final decision still rests with the court.

Can a parent who has been violent get parental rights and responsibilities or visitation?

It is not a disqualifier, but will weigh heavily in a judge’s decision.  The judge must consider how the domestic violence affects the child emotionally and how it affects the child’s safety.

A judge can let the child’s primary residence be with the abusive parent or let the abusive parent have visitation if safety measures for the child and abused parent are put in place.  Often this means a supervised visitation arrangement, requiring that a counselor, agency, or other responsible adult is present when the parent and child are together.

Judges may also order that the exchange of the child occur in a protected location, supervised by a responsible adult, with no overnight visitors,, and and that the abusive parent does not use alcohol or drugs during the visit and for 24 hours before the visit.

The law is similar for a parent convicted of a child-related sexual offense.  The judge can also only place the child with that parent or allow contact if there are safety precautions in place. However, for certain sex offenses, the judge has to assume that no contact with that parent is in the child’s best interests.

Read More:  Maine Child Support Laws and FAQs

What is Maine’s Best Interests of the Child Standard?

The parents needs and desires are secondary to what is best for the child in a custody agreement. The Maine family court system puts the best interests of the children first in any decisions that affect them.  That includes decisions regarding parental rights and responsibilities, such as where the main residence is and how often they see each parent.

Because “best interests” is a subjective term, the factors above are normally used to help reach a just and fair arrangement.

What to Know About Parenting Plans

Parenting plans are detailed instructions about each child’s physical and legal custody when parents divorce or are legally separated.  Maine courts prefer that parents develop a plan on their own but will step in and decide when parents cannot agree.   In some cases, a mediator or a family law attorney can assist with preparation of a parenting plan.

Sometimes, parents may retain a mediator or a family law attorney to help them draft a plan.  Plans vary by case but often include the following instructions:

  • Physical custody details, including the number of overnight visits for each parent.
  • Legal custody and how those responsibilities are allocated between parents.
  • Holiday and school break schedules
  • Vacation and travel approval and advance notifications
  • How will a child communicate with both parents
  • How is communication between parents handled?
  • Contact with other family members and friends
  • How are tuition, medical costs, school activities, hobbies, and recreational activities expenses handled?
  • Child support payment amounts and recourse if a parent falls behind.
  • The manner of exchanging children, including when, where, and time of day
  • Transporting children for visitation and other necessary movements
  • Access to records and information
  • Children’s use of technology and online activities
  • How to address child discipline and mental health issues
  • Guidelines when a new partner is involved
  • Grooming and dress guidelines (extreme haircuts, make-up, etc.)
  • Drinking or drug use in the presence of the children

If the other parent is not fulfilling their obligations with a parental rights and responsibilities arrangement, you will need to file a Motion to Enforce.  The court will review the request and can compel the other parent to comply with the court-ordered custody agreement.  If they do not, the parent may be subject to fines, penalties, or a modification of the current agreement.

Read More:  The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children (and How to Help Them Cope)

How Do I Modify a Maine Custody or Visitation Order?

Circumstances often change after a divorce and that can make current custody orders ineffective. Although the court favors stability for children, it allows parents to request a modification or review of the orders, but only in limited circumstances.

In Maine, parents hoping to change a court order must demonstrate that, since the last order, there has been a substantial change of circumstances in the family.  This may be due to a job change or move, health issues, if child abuse, domestic violence or substance abuse is present and other similar significant issues.

A judge will assume that any move greater than 60 miles from the relocating parent’s home or from the non-relocating parent’s home will disrupt the parent-child contact.  However, it’s possible that a move of a lesser distances can also be determined to “disrupt the parent-child contact.”

If the court agrees that the change warrants a review, a judge will re-evaluate custody using the best interest factors listed above.

It’s important to follow all the details of the order that is currently in place even during a modification process.  Following a legal court order is essential and you could wind up with complaint leading to a contempt of court charge if you do not.

Read More:  Where are you on the Divorce Stress Scale? (Plus 5 Tips for Dealing with Divorce Stress)

Maine Child Custody FAQs

Can a grandparent or other relative get parental rights and responsibilities?

A child’s relative or any other third party can generally only be granted parental rights and responsibilities if the court finds that living with either parent would put the child in danger of abuse or neglect, or if both parents are dead.

If the child is currently the subject of a child protection hearing and the state is trying to have the child removed from the parents’ care because the child is in danger, a relative can petition the court to be named an “interested person.”  The relative would have to have a substantial relationship with the child or a substantial interest in the child’s wellbeing.

A grandparent can get visitation, by demonstrating legally acceptable reason (known as “standing”) to file the petition. Next, the judge must consider many factors and decide if visitation in in the child’s best interest and not interfere with the parent/child relationship.

What are the consequences if a parent violates the parental rights and responsibilities order?

If the other parent does not follow the court’s order, you can petition the court for a violation and contempt hearing. If the court finds that the other parent has violated the order, the judge can decide that the parent is “in contempt” and can add terms to the order, change the terms to make the order more specific, order make-up visitation if dates were wrongfully missed, or fine the other parent.

What notice do I need to give to the other parent if I plan to relocate?

Parents with shared or allocated parental rights and responsibilities, must give the other parent notice at least 30 days before the planned relocation. If the relocation must happen in less than 30 days, notice must be given as soon as possible.

After receiving the notice of intended relocation, the non-relocating parent can object to the move in court or seek a change in custody based on the intended move.

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