Child Custody in Maine: When is a Parent Unfit?

Child Custody & Unfit Parents in Maine

During divorce, few issues are as contentious as child custody.  In some cases, one parent may claim the other is unfit.

Casting doubt on the parenting skills and intentions of an ex-partner is an age-old ploy of parents jockeying for a better custody arrangement during separation or after divorce.

But what if your partner puts your child at risk?  Or—what if you are concerned the courts may look at your own background and behavior and consider you unfit?

Top Related Article>> Child Visitation and Custody Laws in Maine

If you are thinking about divorce or already separated, it is important to understand the road ahead if you and your spouse cannot reach an amicable agreement with regards to your children.

The State of Maine basically expects parents will share parental rights and responsibilities, including decisions made on behalf of the children and the right to provide them a residential setting.

Typically, both parents share parental rights and the opportunity to provide a home to their child. In some cases, the primary residence of a child might be with one parent while the co-parent has visitation rights.

The best child custody arrangements in Maine, or anywhere in the US, are those developed and agreed to by the parents of the children.  Failing that, the courts will make a decision based on a number of factors.

Overall, whether parents are married or unmarried, Maine courts make child custody decisions based on the best interests of the child.

There are a number of factors the Court considers when making decisions about child custody.  In some instances, one parent—or both—may have a history of issues that require the court to consider the safety of a child, or children, in the custody of either parent.

In cases where the parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement, the Court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to conduct an investigation and provide a written recommendation and report to the Court for its consideration.

The following are factors a court may take into account when making decisions concerning child custody in the state of Maine:

  • History of domestic abuse or violence: Domestic abuse is common and too-often unseen. Domestic abuse involves partners who are intimate or belong to the same household or family.  According to The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV), law enforcement takes a report of domestic violence in our state every two hours and 22 minutes. One in 15 children live in homes where one parent abuses the other, and one in three of those children report being physically abused. If one or both parents are either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence, the setting is dangerous and unhealthy for a child.  The court takes a history of domestic violence, criminal violence, or a history of intervention by agencies such as the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services (DHHS) very seriously. The safety and well-being of children is the highest priority of the State of Maine.
  • Substance abuse: Addiction can destroy families and take lives. The opioid epidemic in the US has broken families and destroyed well-intentioned and responsible parents caught in the grip of prescription drug addiction. As with domestic violence, children who witness substance abuse endure psychological, emotional, and sometimes physical abuse and neglect.  A habit or history of drinking and drugging is a factor considered by courts in custody decisions.
  • Mental illness: The court is not unsympathetic to the plight of parents who experience psychiatric illness, or have addiction problems.  The goal of the court, to a certain point, is to try and reunite parents with children unless there is a risk of harm or chronic instability. Mental illness, how it is controlled, and its impacts on a child or family, are factors a court weighs seriously before making a custody decision.
  • Overall factors: In a child custody proceeding, the court will look at a number of factors when deciding parental rights and responsibilities. Those factors include the age of a child, and their relationship with each parent.  The assessment can also include evaluation of parenting styles, attention to the needs of a child, and how a parent chooses to resolve conflicts with a co-parent, or with the child. If old enough, the court can take into account the wishes of a child concerning where they want to live.  A court can also consider the capacity of a parent to work with a co-parent, how well-adjusted a child is to their current setting and school, and the impact to a child if one parent has sole custody.

Unfit Parents and child custody and parental rights in MaineDuring or after divorce, if you have concerns that your co-parent may put your children at social, emotional, or physical risk, it is your obligation as a parent to ensure your child is safe.  Speak with an experienced child custody or family law attorney if you have realistic fears about the ability and safety of your ex-partner.

If DHHS receives a report about potential child abuse or neglect, the department may initiate an investigation, or refer the family to a different resource.  In the worst case, DHHS may consider the offending parent to be a threat to their child and take steps to remove the child from the influence and custody of that parent.  In some cases, termination of parental rights may follow.

When making allegations that would involve DHHS during your divorce or after, speak with your divorce attorney about your fears and any evidence you may have regarding potentially abusive circumstances.  While making a fraudulent allegation of child abuse against an ex-partner can have life-long impacts, ignoring a potentially dangerous situation for your child puts them at risk.

In the best case, a couple who decides to separate and divorce will have reasonable conversations about the well-being of their children and work to help their children live to their potential. Child custody decisions are best made by parents—not courts. If conversation, or mediation fails, Maine courts can make those decisions as well.

If you are thinking about separation or already involved in divorce in Maine, an experienced family law or child custody attorney can help you understand options for you and your children as you move into the next chapter of life.

Speak with a trusted child custody attorney in Maine, today

With almost two decades of successful experience with divorce and family law, the Maine Divorce Group is an established law firm that will fight for the best interests of you and your family.

Whether you are interested in the collaborative divorce process or believe your divorce could be contested, we provide seasoned representation with separation, child custody, and all facets of divorce. Reach out to us online or contact us today at (207) 618-6220.

Call 207-230-6884 or contact us online to schedule a consult with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys today.

We serve many clients, just like you, across Maine in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, & Lincoln Counties.


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Divorce is a highly emotional and stressful experience for most people. But you don’t have to face this challenge alone. Having a strong divorce attorney in your corner can help ensure that you and your children walk away from this process with the best opportunities available for future success and happiness.