When couples with children in Maine separate, the major parental rights and responsibilities continue but both parents will need to accept some adjustments as to how those responsibilities are divided.
Parents are still responsible for raising their children, providing for their physical, mental and emotional needs, and generally have the right to spend equal time with the child.
However, because of practicalities or other factors, the child will normally spend more time with one parent than the other and will sleep most of the time at one parent’s home (the “residence”).
Therefore, child support and custody arrangements must be in place to formalize which parent is responsible for what in their child’s upbringing and the rights to visitation, etc. These are either included in a parenting plan or decided by court order.
The term “child custody” is no longer used in Maine family law and has been replaced with “parental rights and responsibilities”.
The laws can be a little complex and take some getting used to for parents but if you can keep the best interests of the child in mind at all times, it will help.
While many people think of custody as who has physical possession of the children or their living arrangements, it can mean a few things.
In addition to physical custody, there are parental rights and responsibilities, which relates to the right to make significant decisions for the child, such as their religious upbringing, education, and medical care that is not emergent.
Custody can be sole or joint. If there is sole legal custody, one parent has decision-making authority over the children; if it is joint, both parents have the authority. In sole physical custody arrangements, the children live with the sole custodian and usually have visitation with their other parent.
If joint physical custody is granted, the children live with each parent for a set time period on a set schedule. These time periods can vary between a few days a week or even months at a time, such as over summer break.
If one parent is granted visitation in the divorce, the court determines where and when they will see the children if both spouses cannot reach a mutually agreeable solution.
In most divorces, the court will grant allocated parental rights and responsibilities. These rights are divided between the parents. For example, one parent might have decision-making authority over their child’s religious upbringing, while another will have control over their education.
Parental rights and responsibilities outline what each parent’s obligation to their child is in a co-parenting arrangement.
It details how the two parents cooperate for the good of the child’s upbringing, education, health, and general welfare. There is an obligation to provide financial support (“child support”) as well as to provide shelter, emotional support, parental guidance, and so on.
There are three main ways to allocate parental rights and responsibilities in Maine:
This is where both parents have equal access and control when it comes to responsibilities. It includes both custody and decision-making rights. Child support may still be payable by one parent to the other.
Parents must keep each other informed of major changes that could affect the child’s welfare and must liaise closely in the upbringing of the child.
This arrangement is the preferred one for the Maine family court system as both parents have equal input into the child’s upbringing, which is considered beneficial for the child.
This is much rarer in Maine. One parent takes care of the child, usually receiving child support from the noncustodial parent to maintain the child’s wellbeing and quality of living.
The parent with sole rights and responsibilities makes all major decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and general welfare but the other parent generally still has visitation rights.
Sole rights are usually only awarded by Maine courts when shared parental rights are not possible.
Again, this one is much rarer than shared parental rights and responsibilities. It means that rights and responsibilities are split.
For instance, one parent might make decisions about schooling and the other decisions about religious upbringing.
The Maine family court system puts the best interests of the children first in any decisions that affect them.
This includes decisions regarding parental rights and responsibilities, such as where the main “residence” is and how often they see each parent. Maintaining consistency and continuity in a child’s life are considered very important for their welfare and happiness.
Parents are encouraged to work together to find a solution that provides these qualities. Because “best interests” is a subjective term, there is a set of factors that you should consider when making an informed decision about your rights and responsibilities.
If not, the courts will need to decide for you.
Following are the main (but not only) factors that will be considered when making decisions in the child’s best interests:
In Maine, parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children until the age of 18 or they graduate high school (whichever comes last).
So, if the court needs to decide about parental rights and responsibilities during a divorce, a child support order may be issued at the same time.
This requires the noncustodial parent to pay support to the parent with whom the child resides most of the time. If residency is split between the two parents, support is paid by the higher-earning parent to the lower-earning parent.
Maine publishes a series of Child Support Guidelines to help parents work out what must be paid. This provides a weekly child support amount based upon the combined annual income of the parents.
Parental rights and responsibilities orders issued by Maine courts are legally binding until the child reaches the age of 18 or they graduate high school. However, circumstances in families do change and the system recognizes this.
You cannot unilaterally decide to change an order if your circumstances change. The order must be modified through the court system. If you and the other parent do not agree, the court will need to decide whether to grant the modification.
You will need to file a motion to modify and be able to show that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances”. This might be a change in financial circumstances, the relocation of one parent, or another matter that disrupts the parent-child contact schedule.
Often, legal assistance is required to make sure that you provide all the necessary information (a considerable number of forms is required) and present a strong case for modification.
If the other parent is not fulfilling his or her obligations with a parental rights and responsibilities arrangement, you will need to file a Motion to Enforce.
Again, this may require legal assistance as there is considerable paperwork to submit. You may be ordered by a judge to attend mediation sessions with the other parent first.
If no agreement is reached, a court hearing may be held and the judge may take measures to enforce the order.
If you need assistance with matters concerning your children after you separate from your spouse, speak to an experienced divorce and family lawyer at The Maine Divorce Group by calling us at (207) 618-6220 or setting up a case evaluation directly online.
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