How Does Domestic Violence Affect Child Custody in Maine?

Domestic violence and impact on child custody in the state of Maine

The parent-child bond is probably the strongest one that most people know and it is not broken by a divorce or separation.

When parents separate, life must continue and couples must find a way to limit the negative consequences for their children.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but with patience and collaboration between the mother and father, most couples find a way.

The Maine family law courts are set up to help in that respect, ensuring that decisions are made in the best interests of the child, first and foremost.

For fathers, it helps to know what your rights are with issues such as custody, visitation, and support as you discuss these matters with your ex-spouse.

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How are child custody decisions made in Maine?

When we discuss “child custody” in Maine, we could be referring to either legal custody or physical custody of a child.

Legal custody is about who makes the key decisions regarding the upbringing of the child — from educational and religious choices to social interactions.

Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child primarily lives and the visitation schedule with the other parent.

There is no set rule or formula applied to these matters in child custody cases. Every decision is made using the standard of the “best interests” of the child.

Accordingly, in child custody cases, the court will consider multiple factors, including the following:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s relationship with parents and any other people who may significantly affect the child’s welfare
  • The child’s preference, if old enough to have a meaningful opinion
  • The length of time the child has lived with each parent
  • The stability of each parent’s household
  • Each parent’s ability to give the child love, affection, and guidance
  • The child’s adjustment to his or her current home, school, and community
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage a child’s positive relationship with the other parent and cooperate in childcare
  • Any parental history of child or sexual abuse
  • The criminal history of any person living with either parent
  • Domestic violence between the parents, and
  • Any other factor affecting the physical and psychological well-being of the child

As you can see from the list above, factors like a history of child or sexual abuse, domestic violence between the parents, and criminal history are important considerations when child custody rulings are made.

What is regarded as “domestic violence” in Maine?

Maine law defines domestic violence or domestic abuse as violence between family/household members or dating partners.

This includes any actions that:

  • Cause bodily injury or offensive physical contact (including sexual assault)
  • Threaten bodily injury or offensive physical contact
  • Force a person to commit acts against their will
  • Unlawfully confine or kidnap

While most of these actions involve physical harm, stalking is also regarded as a form of domestic violence.

How does a domestic violence charge affect custody decisions?

When custody cases begin in Maine, each parent must notify the court if they have been the subject of court proceedings for any of the following:

  • Domestic violence
  • Protective orders
  • Termination of parental rights with other children

If a judge believes that a child may be in danger by awarding custody to a parent who has previously been the subject of domestic violence action or is a convicted sex offender, he or she is duty-bound to take steps to avoid risks to the child.

This may be in the form of visitation restrictions or, in the most extreme cases, the termination of parental rights.

If the child is deemed to be in danger but parental rights are not removed, the court may order that a third party supervise all visits between the child and non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent may be ordered to pay any costs associated with supervised visitation, though sometimes a family member can fulfill the role.

Some other measures that may be taken to protect the child and/or the other parent include:

  • Appointing a parenting coordinator to ensure that parents follow the court order during visitation
  • Ordering that child exchanges occur in a protected setting
  • Ordering either parent to abstain from drinking alcohol or using controlled substances 24 hours before each visit and during visitation
  • Ordering the abusive parent to post a bond to ensure he or she returns the child safely after visitation
  • Ordering the abusive parent to attend counseling
  • Prohibiting overnight visitation between the child and abusive parent

When parents separate in Maine, they retain their parental rights and responsibilities. Both parents are expected to support the child until the age of majority and, under normal circumstances, have the right to spend approximately equal time with the child and contribute to making decisions on his/her behalf.

Parental rights and responsibilities are deemed sacred in Maine and, wherever possible, the courts prefer that a child grows up with the input of both parents.

However, in the worst cases of domestic violence and where it is deemed in the best interests of the child, termination of parental rights is an available course of action for judges.

The court may order a termination of parental rights if a serious crime is committed against the child (such as aggravated assault or sexual assault) or a parent is responsible for the intentional death of another child.

Rights may also be removed if the parent has previously had custody taken away from him/her for severe abuse, and one of the following applies:

  • He/she is unwilling or unable to protect the child from danger
  • He/she is unwilling or unable to provide for the child’s needs, or
  • He/she has abandoned the child
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What should you do if you are a victim of domestic violence?

In emergencies, victims of domestic violence should call 911 or the 24-hour hotline at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (dial 211).

To prevent violence from occurring in your household, you can petition the Maine courts for a “protective order”. To do so, visit the county district court where either you or your abuser lives, and complete a “Protection from Abuse Complaint.”

If urgent action is required, you can apply for a temporary order. In either case, a judge will review your application and make a decision.

If a temporary protective order is issued, a hearing will be scheduled within 21 days, which both parties must attend. Evidence must be provided to support the claim and if it is successfully demonstrated that a parent and/or child is at risk of domestic violence, a protective order will be issued. This can last up to two years.

Learn MoreProtection from abuse orders in Maine

A protective order has the power to:

  • Direct the abusive parent to refrain from threatening, assaulting, molesting, harassing, attacking, stalking, or otherwise abusing the other parent and any children
  • Prohibit the abusive parent from owning a firearm or other dangerous weapon
  • Prohibit the abusive parent from visiting the other parent’s home, school, business, or place of employment
  • Order the abusive parent to have no direct or indirect contact with the other parent
  • Evict the abusive parent from the household
  • Award the abused parent possession of a residence, vehicles, pets, or other property
  • Require the abusive parent to attend a batterers’ intervention program or other counseling
  • Order the abusive parent to provide financial support for the other parent and any children, and
  • Order the abusive parent to pay the abused parent’s attorney’s fees.

Should the subject of the protective order violate the conditions stated, he or she can be arrested and/or fined.

Contact a father’s rights expert in Maine today

If you are involved in a child custody dispute in Maine where domestic violence is a factor, speak to an experienced child custody attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an 207-494-2779.

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Call 207-230-6597 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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