Paternity and a Father’s Rights in Maine

Paternity and a Father's Rights in Portland Maine

Paternity comes with many rights and responsibilities in Maine and it’s important to understand what these are if you’re a father.

Whether your paternity is ”presumed” through marriage or you need to establish paternity through legal action, the same father’s rights and obligations apply and the same protections are afforded to your child.

Here’s what you need to know…

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Who needs to “establish” paternity in Maine?

In Maine, married couples are automatically established as the legal parents of any children that result from the relationship — from birth.

When a father is not married to a child’s mother at any point during her pregnancy or at the time of the child’s birth, different rules apply. Under Maine law, the unmarried biological father of a baby is not considered a legal parent unless paternity is established by legal action.

Establishing paternity is the process by which the baby’s biological father is proven for legal purposes. This may be necessary to protect the father’s rights as well as the child’s — and may be beneficial even if the father lives with the other parent and they enjoy a good relationship.

Without establishing paternity, if the father or mother dies, there could be a legal dispute about where the child lives, the right of the child to inherit property or other complications.

How can you establish paternity in Maine?

Two main methods are used to establish paternity in Maine:

The simplest way is for both unmarried parents to sign an acknowledgement of paternity (AOP). This is a sworn statement signed in front of a notary public and considered a legally valid way to establish paternity after a child is born.

A signed AOP generally works well if the parents are in a harmonious relationship. Many unmarried couples sign the form at the hospital or birthing center, which should have the necessary forms and personnel. Alternatively, you can sign the AOP at your local municipal clerk’s office or the Maine Office of Vital Records.

If there are any doubts about paternity, a father should not sign an AOP without genetic testing to establish the DNA links with the child.

The second way to establish paternity in Maine is more complex and may require court intervention from a judge. A paternity lawsuit can be filed by the child, mother or father — or even by the Maine Office for Family Independence, Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery (DSER).

This course of action may be necessary if the child’s mother will not consent to sign the acknowledgement of paternity and the father files a complaint with the Maine courts to ask for a determination of paternity. Genetic testing may be required to identify the child’s legal father.

In some cases, a paternity action is filed to enforce a rightful father’s child support obligation. However, the DSER also has other means to establish paternity and can enforce child support obligations without the help of the Maine courts.

Once the court issues a final judgment, paternity is formally established and the judge can make an order about the associated financial obligations of the father as well as other parenting matters.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant are entitled to legal representation in such cases. Many fathers choose to hire a suitably qualified divorce or family lawyer to help navigate the legal hurdles.

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What are the benefits of paternity?

Establishing paternity through either of the methods outlined above helps to protect a father’s rights and comes with other benefits:

  • It validates the father’s right to go to court to ask for custody, visitation and other parenting rights (these are not granted automatically by signing an AOR).
  • It can clarify financial matters: paternity comes with the responsibility to pay birthing costs, child support and medical/educational costs. These are not normally major issues if the parents live together but can become complex matters if they don’t — establishing paternity helps clarify where everyone stands.
  • The parents can work together to make decisions in the best interests of their child.
  • If the mother dies unexpectedly, the legal father will be presumed as the best person to have custody of the child.

With paternity legally established, there are also benefits for the child:

  • The birth certificate will include both parents’ names.
  • The child can apply for benefits like Social Security, medical insurance, and other state and federal benefits through the father.
  • He/she will be able to access the medical histories of both parents.
  • He/she will have automatic inheritance rights if something unexpected happens to the parents.

What are the rights of divorcing fathers?

When parents are married, they share equal parental rights. During divorce proceedings in Maine, both the father and mother can request parental rights from the court.

The preference in Maine is for shared custody of the child as this is generally considered in the best interests of the child, which is the standard used in Maine for all decisions involving children. Shared legal custody provides both parents with input into how the child is raised, which is generally considered best for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

In terms of visitation rights and the child’s living plans, this should be outlined in a parenting plan that accommodates the legal rights of both parents while again firmly focusing on the best interests of the child. The parenting agreement must be approved by the Maine courts before it is legally valid.

With or without shared custody, a father who does not provide the child’s primary residence is entitled to “reasonable” visitation times with the child.

If the father is granted primary physical custody of the child and looks after the child most of the time, the child’s mother may be ordered to pay child support. In such cases, the father also has the right to access governmental support services for the enforcement of child support payments through the DSER.

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The rights of a child when establishing paternity

Every child has the right to the following from both parents:

  • Identity:the right to know and have a relationship with his/her mother and father — and to know the family lineage (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.)
  • Financial support: the financial support of both parents is usually required for adequate food, clothes, shelter and medical care to be provided.
  • Health:A child’s health may depend upon medical and genetic information from both parents (establishing paternity ensures that the child can access the medical histories of both parents in later life to benefit their healthcare).

With paternity established, a child may also have the right to access social security benefits, pensions, inheritance, health insurance, life insurance, veterans’ benefits and more.

If you need to establish paternity in Maine and are unsure of how to proceed, speak to an experienced family law attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation.

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.